Hounds of Love (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
The plot of “Hounds of Love,” written and directed by Ben Young, revolves around a kidnapping, but that is not what it is about. Strangely enough, it is about being a mother and how that link between parent and child can be such a powerful force, it can circumvent rhyme and reason. There are two mothers in the story. The first is Maggie (Susie Porter) who is divorcing her husband (Damian de Montemas). Her daughter, Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), is having a difficult time coming to terms with the separation. She will be the one to get kidnapped. The second is is Evelyn (Emma Booth), one of the abductors and killers along with her partner John (Stephen Curry). Maggie and Evelyn do not share the screen and never exchange words. Yet when the final act rolls around, the material commands power. If only the rest of the picture were as strong.
One of its strengths is the matter-of-fact way of showing horror and violence. The film is shot so simply, it gives the impression that the person in control of the camera does not have any experience. This isn’t to suggest that the work is without discipline. On the contrary, it requires a keen eye and authority to capture images as they would behave or unfold in real life. Notice, too, there is no score to mask the sound of a blade making contact with the skin, when a punch lands on a face, or when a victim screams for help. We are meant to process the fact that the random kidnappings, torture, and killings can occur anywhere.
The writer-director is not interested in elaborately choreographed attempts at escape nor does he try to terrify the viewer solely by overt violence. Instead, even though the characters are not especially apt at articulating their thoughts and feelings, the subjects almost always try to put into words what it is that moves them. Sometimes they are incapable. And this adds to their growing frustrations and need to be in control. Those looking for dialogue-driven situational thrillers should look elsewhere. The pacing does not move swiftly; it languishes.
I did not mind the lack of obvious explanation in terms of the kidnappers’ motives. There are enough crumbs laid out for us to be able to put the pieces together. In a way, the screenplay assumes audiences are smart. However, when the story moves toward Vicki’s mother—how the police fails to take her concerns with utmost gravity, the clash between her and her former husband post-abduction, and the letter she receives via mail from Vicki who claims to have run away—there is a lack of urgency in these scenes. It is in these moments that the viewer should learn how Maggie thinks, processes, and responds to a crisis. There is a stark difference in tension when the focus shifts to Vicki’s mother.
Evelyn, on the other hand, is a bomb waiting to go off. We have a thorough appreciation that this woman has been put upon for decades. Every little thing can threaten her; she becomes especially jealous, almost in a self-destructive way, when John appears to show special interest in their most recent prey. Booth plays her character as woman who wishes to yell out her problems and frustrations, especially those that involve her children, but must remain silent because her partner demands that everything be clean, civil, normal. Their lives is anything but. One feels dirty spending so much time in these monsters’ home.
“Hounds of Love” is not afraid of brutality, but it is also capable of taking suggestions and allowing our minds to construct what is happening or what just happened. This is the difference between telling a story that is violent, ugly, unrelenting and just another torture porn horror show. Although not for most viewers, especially the impatient ones, I still think the work is worth seeing at least once for its brave, risk-taking approach.