It’s rare when a film feels so authentic that it’s cringe worthy in the sense that it makes you feel uncomfortable. “Hounds of Love” is one of those films. Australian writer and director, Ben Young, comes primarily from a TV background but seems to really find his stride with Hounds of Love.
The film takes place in Perth in 1987 and focuses on an odd couple who feed off of each other in the worst way. Our two featured players, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry), have manipulative traits that not only work on those who they prey on but each other as well. It’s an abusive mentally draining relationship that we see ping pong back and forth throughout the entire film. Who do they prey on? Young teenage school girls. They target their victim. Find a way to draw them in with a polite disposition. Then never let them go.
It’s a chilling and downright creepy performance that is turned in by both Booth and Curry who’s on screen chemistry feels so real at times it feels like you are watching a horrific documentary on sexual abuse and abduction. On one hand Evelyn is shaken and seemingly struggling with her emotions but John is very steady handed and sure of himself. He is even expressionless at times, and that makes him all that much more terrifying. Unfortunately we live in a world where these things take place all to often and Ben Young found a way to craft a beautiful film that is also heart breaking and brutal that keeps you on edge of your seat with tension that only has brief moments of pause that let you take a small breath before clinch your fist again hoping the worst won’t happen.
Young uses a few long panning tracking shots that make moments stand still. A pregnant pause as the predator watches the prey. These moments let the viewer take in the innocence of being a child playing on a playground or observe a quite suburban neighborhood. Seeing these brief glimpses early on help the pacing of the film that uses a well crafted story and score to set the tone. The tracking shots mixed into the film it almost acts like a weightlessness climb to the top of a roller coaster before the next drop.
While the general story follows this couple and their horrible actions there is also an underlying tone in the film that focuses on the bond between mother and daughter. No matter how rough things are they will always care for you. This is on display two fold with with Vicki’s relationship between her mother and Evelyn’s longing relationship with her children that we never see on screen.
Ashleigh Cummings finds the balance of playing the victim (Vicki) and being an empowered character that you root for throughout the film. Her emotions come into play in various shapes and sizes throughout the journey. She is very strong, she always fought and she was always calculating and plotting her next move in the situation. But she plays the role in a very human way. It’s not a super hero like or fake. Her performance comes from a sense of desperation that almost seems hopeless time and time again.
While we could draw comparisons from Funny Games, I Spit on Your Grave or even The Last House on the Left (in some ways), Hounds of Love carves it’s own niche and voice in the exploration thriller drama. In my opinion this it tops them all with it’s authenticity and acting. It’s a sleeper pick early on for one of my top genre films of the year.
HOUNDS OF LOVE hits theaters and VOD this Friday, May 12.
We sat down with Ashleigh Cummings at SXSW to discuss how she goes from being in such a dark place mentally then come down from those emotions during breaks in-between scenes.