By Philip Clarke
CALGARY – To put her parent’s current separation as far out of her mind as possible, young Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out of her mom’s house late one night. All she wants to do is let loose at a raucous party for a couple of hours to forget her daily troubles. Her night of intended drinking is interrupted when she’s picked up by a seemingly kind couple driving down the very same road. Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry) appear to be normal folk at first, but they carry an uneasy darkness with them wherever they go. Their offer of marijuana and an empty booster seat in the back of their car convinces Vicki that they’re relatively untrustworthy people.
After drinking a glass of water that’s been drugged, Vicki is subsequently chained up to one of their beds. It’s clear that Evelyn and John have done this kind of thing before. Vicki’s quickly degraded, as she becomes the victim of a horrifying game of sexual control. While her freedom is visibly right through the front door, taunting her at every single moment, Vicki’s mind begins to race and turn for a way out. She becomes privy to not only the horrors of her situation, but also the inner workings of her kidnappers’ collectively deranged psyche.
On the surface, Hounds of Love may at first appear to be just another run-of-the-mill Australian crime film. Underneath the basic set-up is a small-scale character-focused chamber piece. The performances of the three leads are what truly make the film work. They’re faultless and feel genuinely authentic throughout. We feel completely awful for Vicki as she goes through the trauma of being kidnapped, raped and tortured. We entirely loathe John for being the most despicable human being imaginable. Our hearts absolutely break for Evelyn because she’s also a victim in her own right. We condemn them and hate them for their actions, but also unfortunately understand why they do what they do.
First-time feature writer/director Ben Young wisely keeps the film focused on the victim and her kidnappers. The audience fully understands the perverse and complex power struggle at work here. Young also smartly eschews the stock rape revenge tropes that audiences are most likely expecting to unfold in the last act. So many films of its ilk all go down the same path, by giving both the victim and the audience the instant gratification of a fantastically hyper-violent finale. The ending, while certainly violent, is never taken to over-the-top or unnecessarily stylized extremes.
The film never shies away from any of the ugliness that the real world has to offer, without ever becoming overly gratuitous. Young leaves the scenes of sexual assault up the viewer’s imagination by having very little of the acts ever shown on screen. Most of the atrocities are just heard though Vicki’s terrified screams. The film is undoubtedly a difficult watch from the very beginning.
Not only does the film discuss the horrific nature of sexual assault, but it also delves into a deconstruction of toxic relationships. Evelyn utterly worships John when she clearly shouldn’t. On top of being a serial rapist and kidnapper, John’s also an alcoholic who’s prone to violent outbursts towards animals and treating his wife like his own personal slave.
Hounds of Love is not a film to be casually watched on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However, it is definitely an important film to watch and discuss afterwards. That way we can help educate and create awareness on real mature themes that are sadly all too real in the world today.
Hounds of Love screens at the Globe Cinema on April 19th as part of CUFF.
CUFF, CUFF 2017, Globe Cinema, Hounds of Love