Set in the year 1987 a young teenage girl, Vicki, (Ashleigh Cummings, Puberty Blues) sneaks out of her mother's house to attend a nearby party. Along the way she is offered dope by a friendly couple (Stephen Curry, The King and Emma Booth, Gods of Egypt) who are driving by. She reluctantly agrees and they invite her into their home with the promise of scoring weed, alcohol to bide the time, and a phone to call a taxi with. It isn't long before Vicki's vision begins to blur and she realises that she's in a lot of trouble. The couple chain her to a bed and unleash hell upon her. And so begins a relentless campaign of rape, bruised knuckles and depravation.
HOUNDS OF LOVE is a difficult watch to say the least, yet unlike other films of its type (such as The Berlin Syndrome or The Girl Next Door) it offers a psychological exploration of its antagonists, and presents the viewer with an examination of domestic violence, male dominance and psychological mind control. And while the content is certainly confronting, first time director Ben Young handles the material with great skill. Much of the horror is accompanied by a mesmerising soundtrack, including popular songs from the era, which adds beauty to the heinousness. This also provides a point of distinction from the likes of Snowtown, whereby the grim nature of the story is counterbalanced with an unexpected (uncomfortable) line up of music that stirs a disoriented uncertainty within. On one hand it's awful to consider that this is an “enjoyable” film yet on the other hand it delivers a challenging and provocative character study. There is no doubt, in my mind, that HOUNDS OF LOVE is absolutely enjoyable, but that “joy” should not be misunderstood. It is an emotional reaction to having seen a film that is about as close to perfection as is possible.
Much of the film's power is owed to the incredible performances of its three lead actors. Each have such a pivotal part in the story that it would be a disservice to call any one of them “support” players. Ashleigh Cummings gives a gut-wrenching performance as the tortured girl, and her commitment to the film is a testament to her talent. She is put in the most vulnerable and taxing position of the three, and her reactionary performance is quite incredible. Emma Booth's turn as the devoted wife should be an example to all aspiring thespians. It is a complex and harrowing performance, which borders on sympathetic and may ring true to many women watching... albeit to a heightened degree. She switches from monster to victim all too easily, and blurs the line between being a complaint facilitator (and participator) to an oppressed woman unable to escape the evil clutches of her husband.
And then there's Stephen Curry. Wow. This is a guy who has struggled to shake off his “Dale Karrigan” persona for two decades (despite his accomplished performances in films like The King and The Cup) and if HOUNDS OF LOVE doesn't break that mould, then nothing will. This is a career defining role that reminds us of the breakout performances from Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper, Eric Bana in Chopper and Daniel Henshall in Snowtown. Curry's portrayal of the serial killer John White (a character inspired by killer David Birnie) is akin to a possession. He emits charisma and terror in equal measure and walks in his killer's skin all too comfortably. It is a terrifying performance and when his creepy winks and depraved fetishes are paired on screen with 60s and 70s pop music, the result is transcending. I honestly don't think I will ever listen to the song Knights In While Satin the same again.... stunning stuff.
Ben Young's debut feature film is about as impressive as they come, and given his immaculate style, brilliant use of slow motion, and meticulous production design there is no doubt that he's set to become a filmmaker of his generation (we can hope). Hollywood have already poached him and his next film will see him reunited with Emma Booth, as well as an ensemble of players such as Lizzy Caplan, Michael Pena, Mike Colter and Lex Shrapnel amongst others. We can only hope that he is afforded the freedom to be as audacious and ingenious as he was with HOUNDS OF LOVE.
HOUNDS OF LOVE IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY & DVD FROM SHOCK.