'Hounds Of Love' Is Harrowing, Brutal Descent Into Horror [Overlook Film Festival]

This is not an easy movie to get through. Hounds of Love depicts graphic scenes of sexual assault and torture. It's the kind of movie that makes you question why you enjoy watching horror movies in the first place. Why subject yourself to something like this? Why sit through something that makes you feel like you need to take a shower afterwards?

But nothing here is done for the sake of exploitation or titillation. Hounds of Love is a surprisingly deep meditation on domestic violence and controlling relationships, an astonishingly well-acted piece of film, and it doesn't end quite the way you'd expect from its rape-revenge trappings. But it's certainly not going to be for everyone.

The film makes you complicit from almost the very first shot. In a series of beautiful slow-motion shots, we see various scenes playing out from a vehicle driving through a suburban Australian neighborhood. We cruise by young girls playing volleyball, or skipping rope, or doing any number of otherwise innocuous things. The focus of the camera on bare legs and hair tells us that things are not so innocent, and that someone has something far worse in mind. You'll feel... icky.

It only gets worse when a teenage girl leaves her friends only to get picked off the street a second later by a male and female couple, who lure her into the car with the promise of a ride home. She is never seen again.

We're then introduced to our main character Vicki (the incredible Ashleigh Cummings), who is dealing with a lot of parental strife. Her mom and dad are separated and she spends more time at her rich dad's, as he lavishes her with money and puppies. She doesn't appreciate her mom moving off and being independant, and she's at that confused age where she's rebelling against anything regardless of reason. She wants to go to a party one night, but her mother forbids her, concerned with her declining schoolwork. Vicki sneaks out the window instead.

On the long walk to her friend's' house, she's approached by the couple in the car, who are shown for the first time to be John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) They stick to their M.O., luring her in with the promise of some weed and drinks. Once she's in their distinctly 1980s wood-paneled home she is drugged, tied up... and worse.

Vicki is thrust into an unimaginable situation and does her best to get out, but it's tricky. The couple is familiar to neighbors as derelicts, and the neighborhood has long dealt with them screaming and fighting at all hours. The Whites have also done this enough that they know how to keep her in, with their massive dog outside preventing any escape attempts.

Hounds of Love

But it doesn't look like Vicki is going to have much longer. John is starting to pay attention to her and do things to her by himself, making Evelyn upset and jealous. Vicki starts to appeal to the older woman once she sees that she's being abused almost as much... but she's almost too far gone at this point from years of living under the controlling John.

Meanwhile, her parents are going through all the stages of a missing child – annoyance at her staying overnight, fear that she's not going to come home, rage that the police won't do anything. They start to hunt for her themselves, but it's not easy to find someone who's gone missing. Last House on the Left this ain't.

Hounds of Love is actually not very graphic, but it feels like it is. While most everything happens behind closed doors, the tension is so well crafted you could swear you saw it all happen right in front of you. You know how you never actually saw Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear in Reservoir Dogs, but you sure felt it? Same principle.Hounds of Love is inspired by the true story of the Moorhouse Murders, where a serial killer couple, tortured and killed four young woman in Perth Australia in the 1980s before the fifth escaped. The story in the movie roughly follows the same path as the real one, as it involves a jealous significant other going along with her man's wishes because she knows nothing else.

But what Hounds of Love does so brilliantly is position Evelyn as much a victim in this situation as anyone. She has been living with this torturer and murderer for so long that she doesn't understand that there's any other kind of life out there, and although she seeks to be with her children (who have been taken away from her, thankfully) she has been convinced by John that she needs him and only him. Booth's performance here is stunning. This woman is confused and cut off from reality and the film is really all about her struggle to rise past her clouded mental state. It's constantly looking to see if there's still a human being in her.

That's not the case for John, who is just an absolute monster. Curry is in that unenviable position of being so creepy that it will be hard to see him in anything else without remembering this role. He is a cold and uncaring killer who uses abuse like a scalpel, carefully cutting through anything Evelyn says or does to ensure that she sticks with him no matter what horrors he brings to her life.

It's insane to think that this is the debut feature from writer/director Ben Young – it's so assured and well-crafted. Hounds of Love will infect you and stick with you. I think it'll be lingering in my mind for years to come.

/Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10