Hounds of Love (2016)
Director: Ben Young
Writer: Ben Young
Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry
Reviewer: Martin McGregor
To categorise Hounds of Love as just a horror movie would be doing the film a huge injustice. This film is a masterpiece in modern filmmaking, in that it actually feels dated. From the opening slow-motion scene of schoolgirls playing netball, there is an eeriness to filming that makes you feel instantly uncomfortable if not a little perverted. What follows is just over 100 minutes of some of the most intense storytelling that I have ever witnessed.
The story is thought to be loosely based on an Australian couple named Catherine and David Birnie who abducted a young girl at knifepoint in 1986. The woman later escaped and the couple were jailed for twenty years for kidnapping, sexually abuse and murdering three women and a teenager. Producer Melissa Kelly has denied this was the inspiration for the story, but that it is a work of fiction, actually inspired by a number of true crimes.
The story is set In Australia in 1987 and tells the story of John and Evelyn White played expertly by actress Emma Booth and actor Stephen Curry.
Within the first few minutes, we have already witnessed a teenager abducted with relative ease, who is then sexually abused and murdered. We witness a bedroom floor strewn with bloody tissues, blood splattered walls and helpless tortured screams, but no gratuitous violence, instead this is left to your own imagination to paint the picture for yourself. Drab tones paint a perfect picture of the time period, sex toys and movies are randomly placed to make sure you are aware of just how depraved the abuse is, but nothing too overtly sexual that it detracts you from the storyline.
Emma Booth is a real tour de force here. Plagued by drug-fuelled insecurities and a fear of eventually being cast aside and replaced by her manipulative husband she flips from an aggressive torturer to a tear-filled mess in a near instant. It is a testament to her skills as an actress that she can do so effortlessly. Stephen Curry looks every bit the part of the manipulative husband and infatuated kidnapper. You feel the depravity he is capable of just by looking at the way he conducts himself. It’s a very unsettling experience to watch. He looks frail and weak, but behind the deceptive façade, he is capable of intense savagery.
It is his quickly recognised infatuation with his victim, that leads to an unlikely alliance between Evelyn and the second abductee that we meet. Vicki Maloney (played superbly by Ashleigh Cummings) a teenager from a broken home. She is intent on rebelling against her mother, which ultimately leads to her abduction. An early failed escape attempt is so thrilling that it leaves you breathless as you will the victim to get away from the imminent torture and abuse you know that she will have to endure.
Forced to write a fictitious letter to her parents, she finds a way to communicate through a hidden message, the trouble is the police are reluctant to follow the lead and leave the family to search for the missing girl themselves. Vicki suffers increasingly at the hands of her captors, and although never actually privy to seeing the full extent of the abuse, the slow motion camerawork and blood-curdling screams leave you feeling helpless for the victim but desperate for her to escape from her increasingly dangerous situation.
The Musical score is perfectly used to dramatic effect, that you will possibly never think of The Moody Blues ‘Knights in white satin’ in the same way ever again. What adds to the realism of the film, is how suburban life continues around the house of the kidnappers. They are oblivious to what is happening on their very doorsteps. Cars are washed in driveways, children skip on ropes in immaculate looking gardens, young girls ride past on bicycles. All of them without a single care in the world.
If you can manage to sit through the film, you will be massively rewarded. At times it doesn’t feel like you are watching a movie, but you are actively involved in the storytelling. The end of the movie is not overly brutal, but for some it might still be too upsetting to watch. Ultimately this is a film about violence, loss, loneliness, regret and insecurity, but also about hope.
We learn that in this case, it’s not just the abductee who suffers, but we see the hidden maternal conflict behind the abductor who is separated from her own children. It will leave you with harrowing images, and rest assured this is a movie you will discuss at length with other people and you will not forget about anytime soon.
It is a film that is deeply disturbing, but yet somehow impossible to stop watching. Hounds of Love is without a shadow of a doubt a the must-see movie.