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Australia 2017
Directed by
Ben Young
108 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

Hounds Of Love

Synopsis: Perth, 1987. John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), a pair of serial killers, abduct suburban girls and abuse them for a week before murdering them and burying their bodies in an isolated pine forest. Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is one such girl whose parents Maggie and Trevor (Susie Porter and Damian de Montemas) are in the middle of a messy divorce. When Vicki sneaks out of her mother’s house to go to a part, she accepts a lift from John and Evelyn but quickly finds herself their prisoner, chained to a bed where her only hope of escape is if she can somehow drive a wedge between her captors.

Right from the opening shot of this first-time feature from writer/director Ben Young, we’re pretty sure of two things. Firstly, as the camera tracks in what seems like real time along the footpath outside a suburban netball court, we are invited to watch the young girls in their short netball skirts moving in ultra-slow-motion. It’s an unsettling image, simultaneously voyeuristic and repulsive. And secondly, it takes very little time for us to realise this is no date movie. Within the first several minutes we are in no doubt that this story will be deeply disturbing in the horror of its ordinariness and the unsettling pathology of its two main characters. It feels like we’re in the same territory as Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome although what happens to Clare in Andi’s Berlin apartment seems positively benign compared to what goes on here.

Stories of serial killers, abduction, rape, torture and violence seem to provide an endless fascination for movie goers, some because they are titillated by the graphic nature of depictions of sexual and physical violence and others because these stores have the capacity to explore the darker aspects of human psychology and relationships – those aspects of extreme behaviour that we are both fearful of and fascinated by. Hounds of Love most definitely falls into the latter camp and, in a way, this makes it far more terrifying than the more run-of-the-mill schlock-horror-slasher movie. Young’s tight and tense screenplay is all about the characters. Their actions, as abhorrent as they are, are simply a means by which he can turn up the heat on the triangular interactions between this deadly duo and their innocent victim. In other words, we see very little of the acts of violence on screen. Those horrors are left to our imagination, but be assured that Young provides us with plenty of fuel to fire the images in our heads.

For a first feature, this is a remarkably assured work and Young’s writing and direction are beautifully in sync. Impressive too is the fact that whilst this is not a ‘true crime’ story it carries all the hallmarks of authenticity. Not surprising, perhaps, given that Young grew up reading the true crime books his crime-writing mother, Felicity Young, had lying around the house for research. His interest in female serial killers developed into a wider interest for those women’s relationships with the men who were most often partners or accomplices. The result is chilling.

But, of course, they say casting is everything and Young has hit the jackpot with this group of actors. Cummings, who was so good in the two seasons of the television version of Puberty Blues and who recently turned in a great performance in the hilarious New Zealand chase movie Pork Pie continues her development as a very fine actor in this difficult role that she elevates well beyond the simplicity of scream-teen. Likewise, Booth is both frightening and heartbreaking as the vulnerable, impressionable but cold-hearted girlfriend and killer whose only goal is to somehow convince the authorities to allow her custody of or at least visitation rights for her estranged child. But the real find here is Curry, well known for his comedic skills and for playing many roles of the archetypal decent Aussie bloke. Here, as he has said in interviews, he has to move beyond ‘playing pretendies’ to find some real acting chops and he delivers in spades. Even more than the revelation of nice John Jarrett’s terrifying performance in Wolf Creek, Curry finds depths and layers in the role of John White that establish him as an actor whose talents go far beyond anything we’ve seen him do before.

Still, as good a film as this is, Hounds of Love doesn’t quite find itself in the same league as Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (2011).  It under-uses the talents of Susie Porter in a largely thankless two-dimensional mother role and takes some missteps in its final prolonged scenes, but those misgivings are easily forgiven by the overall impact of this very well made, disquieting psychological thriller. It’s little surprise, given the skill he shows as a filmmaker, that Ben Young has been snapped up by Hollywood for the forthcoming sci-fi thriller, Extinction.




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