SXSW 2017: Hounds of Love
Ben Young’s debut feature, Hounds of Love, centers on three people in 1980s Perth, Australia: John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth, respectively) and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings). Young’s directorial eye follows first the predatory perspective of the Whites as they stake out young women to kidnap, torture and kill, at a local girls' school.
His camera and blocking lingers not with an eye for titillation or luridness, but focuses on parts of the girls—we, like the Whites, never see the whole person but the pieces they feel drawn to. When combined with Young’s music choices for the soundtrack, we are never put in a position to share in the Whites’ excitement toward the young women. This is a common folly of these kinds of stories in film, and Young’s deft avoidance speaks volumes to his care and skill with the execution.
The story of Hounds is similarly well-crafted, with smart characterization of both Evelyn and Vicki. Vicki herself is a child of recent divorce, and plays her parents off of one another to both garner more freedom as a teenager and to hurt her mother, whom she blames for leaving. That skill in playing the two sides against the middle is key to her survival once Evelyn and John set their sights on her, needling Evelyn with tiny details that force her to reconsider what role she truly plays in her relationship with John.
Evelyn has her own deep character work in the script, also written by Young, and performance from Emma Booth. Booth completely sells the role of a wife, simultaneous victim and accomplice, often in the same scene. She is the one who reels in Vicki and the other girls for John and she to victimize, though it’s she who has the tables turned when Vicki begins picking apart at her relationship with John. First, it’s a pair of discarded panties after Vicki comes home early and John scrambles to cover up. Then, Vicki twists the knife when John turns his anger toward their own home life.
Throughout Hounds of Love, Vicki weaponizes her knowledge at being a catalyst for conflict to drive apart Evelyn and John, while her own absence forces her parents to come together in an attempt to find her. While Vicki is impressively resourceful, it’s never unbelievable, and Young’s pacing is smart enough to ratchet up the tension when Vicki may be pushing too far. Hounds of Love is flat-out a smart, tense and considered take on the abduction story that is even more impressive for Ben Young’s debut.