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Evil Invades an Australian Neighborhood in HOUNDS OF LOVE (Review)

Evil Invades an Australian Neighborhood in HOUNDS OF LOVE (Review)

Fictional horrors are relatively easy to concoct, but real-life horrors are the ones we often struggle to comprehend. Vampires and werewolves are scary in a harmless way; in real life predators are often plain-looking, unassuming, and horrifically frightening. So when you’re turning a fact-based tale of kidnapping, rape, and murder into a work of fiction, you should take a good deal of care in the telling. Ben Young’s cold, calculating, and insidiously fascinating Hounds of Love is loosely based on a series of events that rocked a small Australian suburb in the mid-1980s — and the film certainly plays like something that’s been haunting Mr. Young for some time.

Plot-wise, Hounds of Love could come off sounding like a very conventional episode of any typical TV thriller: a teenage girl is abducted by a plainly insane couple who do all sorts of terrible things to her as she struggles to stay alive and devise some sort of escape. The viewer is well aware that this couple has killed before, and that adds an essential layer of tension to the proceedings. To his credit, Mr. Young manages to portray young Vicki’s initial suffering in a harrowing but not wholly grotesque fashion, and that’s when the tension starts to build. The story has only two possible endings; either Vicki will escape, or she’ll be killed by a disgusting brute called John and his equally revolting wife Evelyn.

The strength of a frank, unflinching, and sometimes ugly thriller like this often lies within the tone, the intensity, and (of course) the actors. If Hounds of Love came off like a typical piece of garish exploitation it would be easily forgotten, but thanks in large part to three frankly brilliant performances, the film becomes an almost unbearable exercise in low-key, constant suspense. Stephen Curry (Rogue) and Emma Booth (Gods of Egypt) are pitch perfect as the repugnant pair of kidnappers who seem to use abduction and abuse as some sort of couples’ therapy, and Susie Porter (Nightmares & Dreamscapes) offers an excellent supporting performance as Vicki’s terrified mother. Easily their equal is young Ashleigh Cummings as the long-suffering Vicki, who spends much of the film chained to a bed, but still does an impressive job of creating a three-dimensional character we grow to care about well beyond the trappings of a basic horror movie victim.

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Supported by some flawless production design, disconcertingly lovely cinematography, and a truly effective editorial approach that raises the stakes and the tension at every possible turn, Hounds of Love probably works so well because it is loosely based on actual tragedies, which is something that compels good filmmakers to approach the material with some degree of class and restraint. It’s a rough, intense, and claustrophobic affair, but it’s also a remarkably accomplished thriller, especially given how frequently we see movies that deal with this particular premise. Hounds of Love is so quietly engrossing and flatly terrifying, it may inspire you to read up on some of the tragic events that inspired the film. I know I did.

4 Australian burritos out of 5

4-burritos

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Photos: FilmBuff / Gunpowder & Sky

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