If Hounds of Love, the feature debut of writer/director Ben Young didn’t do so much right, it would be unwatchable. For some, it might still be. It’s an unsparing, upsetting thriller that puts its protagonist through unspeakable tortures and forces her, and us, to peer into the mind of her tormenters. But it’s made with remarkable care and filmmaking skill and performed by the three leads with scorching intensity. It’s a rough film, but an insightful one that offers a glimpse into the abyss not soon forgotten.
Set in the suburbs of Perth Australia in 1987, the film puts viewers in an uncomfortable position from its opening shots, which linger on schoolgirls as they’re scrutinized by a couple on the prowl for prey. But there’s nothing titillating about how Young presents these images, just a sense of malevolence that’s quickly confirmed when we learn a bit more about who’s doing the watching. John (Stephen Curry) and his wife Evelyn (Emma Booth) are depicted as monsters from the start. They follow a girl, lure her into their car, and when next we see her there’s not much left of her to see.
But for all their repulsiveness, the film’s effectiveness hinges on keeping them recognizably human, a man and woman whose doubts and insecurities fuel their awful desires. And when their next victim, Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) finds herself in their clutches, she recognizes quickly that exploiting those weaknesses might be her only way to escape.