Hounds of Love
The opening portion of Hounds of Love left me feeling deeply unsettled. Maybe it's all of those episodes of My Favorite Murder I've been listening to, but the initial 20 minutes or so of the film felt like a very very unpleasant documentary. This is probably because the film is based on a true story - something I didn't know at the time - about a couple who murdered four young women in Perth, Australia in the 80s. And in the tradition of Australian serial killer films like Wolf Creek, this one is brutal and unforgiving.
The film is about John and Evelyn - a couple who abduct young women, assault and torture them, then kill them. They're slowly prowling the streets in their car looking for their next victim, an activity that seems as normal to them as grocery shopping is for other folks. Director Ben Young contrasts the grit and grime of scenes with Evelyn and John with dreamy slo-mo shots of young girls in all of their innocence, doing things like jumping rope and playing tennis. But as beautiful as these moments are, there's a leering, predatory feeling about the way they're filmed, and it's clear that we're seeing these vignettes through the eyes of John. It's a brilliant visual and narrative device. Flipping these moments into something distorted and stomach-churning gives the viewer a deep sense of the perversion and sickness we're dealing with in John and Evelyn.
While cruising along one night they come across Vicki, a young teen who's just had a fight with her mom and snuck out of her home to go to a party. Vicki makes a mistake that any teen could easily make - she assumes that the couple is safe because of the presence of another woman. Unfortunately, Evelyn is just as dangerous as John. Vicki is taken back to the couple's home under the pretense of them needing to make a quick stop, and she quickly finds herself drugged and held captive.
Vicki endures torture and abuse that I won't even get into right now, and it's absolutely harrowing. But as time goes on she discovers that Evelyn's emotions can be manipulated because...wait for it...she's a mom. She eventually discovers that Evelyn has been separated from and unable to see her child. This is her soft spot, her Achilles heel if you will, and Vicki decides to exploit this weakness, ultimately using it to drive a wedge between Evelyn and John.
Despite Vicki's awful experience, I never really felt emotionally connected to her in any way. She's a trope - the angry teen who's just fought with a parent and snuck out to party. But she's not really given much depth beyond this. We don't know too much about her. It causes the film to grind to an emotional halt for the viewer. We're not given much time to get to know her, so we don't have much of a stake in the game as to whether or not she escapes.
This is also true of Evelyn and her motherhood narrative. The film relies on the idea that all mothers love and want their children, that all mothers can relate to other mothers just because...ummm...they're mothers (that's how it works, amirite?), and most importantly, that mothers - regardless of their actions - are women deserving of our sympathy and understanding. Throughout the film we're asked to see Evelyn as something more than a monster, but she never quite earns that status. It makes her decisions in the final moments of the film feel false and hollow.
John, strangely, is given a little more depth. One particular moment that stands out in my mind is when he goes out on his own and is accosted by two thugs. Our understanding of John and his need to show aggression and power in other parts of his life - namely in violence against women - grows during this scene. But the women are flattened and simplistic. It's an odd choice since, ostensibly, the film becomes 100% about the women - about the direct relationship between Evelyn and Vicki, the implied relationship between Evelyn and Vicki's mom as two mothers missing their children, and the troubled relationship between Vicki and her own mother. But the film never really develops the women in a way that supports the examination of these relationships.
Hounds of Love is a bleak film so if you're looking for a "fun" horror movie, you may want to choose something else. It's also - I hate to say it - boring. Very very dark, and very very boring. The lack of character development really really hurts this one. The emotional attachment that we're expected to have for Vicki and Evelyn isn't earned, and what could have been a really good film becomes an exercise in watching cardboard characters go through motions.
Despite my disappointment in the narrative, the acting was fantastic, and I'm especially impressed that this was Ben Young's first feature. It's clear - even though I didn't love the film - that he's incredibly and deeply talented. He's someone that I'll be keeping an eye out for, and I'm excited to see where he goes from here.