The captivity narrative in Hounds of Love explores the depths of a grisly co-dependence.
Hounds of LoveDirector: Ben Young
Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry
Studio: Factor 30 Films
US Release Date: 3017-03-11
There’s no doubt that the subject of captivity is a compelling tool for fictional narratives. As we’ve seen in films like Rob Reiner's Misery (1990), the dynamic established in a captivity narrative is useful in the way it can be used to investigate the psychology of the kidnapper. For example, in Misery, the kidnapping is not the most interesting part of the work, nor are the ways in which the main character, a writer named Paul Sheldon (James Caan), tries to escape. Rather, the most interesting part is watching and studying the actions of Annie (Kathy Bates), the crazed fan that kidnaps Paul. In watching her, we can only understand who she is relative to how she treats Paul and what she desires from him.
This understanding of the function of captivity narratives may reveal why the Australian chiller, Hounds of Love, had already amassed a respectable number of positive reviews before its screening at the Boston Underground Film Festival in late March. In Hounds of Love, captivity is not just a vehicle for torturous, gut-wrenching scenes -- though there are a few of those -- but a way to make sense of the relationship between the two kidnappers.
The two kidnappers, in this case, are Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry). They are ordinary suburbanites who, at night, cruise the streets of Perth, in Western Australia, looking for young women to abduct. One night, they come upon Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a high school girl heading to a party. Predictably, she never makes it.
Once Vicki wakes up from a drug-induced nap, she finds herself tied to a bed in the couple’s compact suburban home. Outside, large dogs roam the backyard like sharks circling their prey. Inside, Evelyn studies the relationship between her captors from her vantage point in the guest bedroom and plots her escape.
John and Evelyn are ostensibly based on David and Catherine Birnie, two real-life serial killers from Perth that killed four women in the '80s in what would later be known as the Moorhouse murders. Whether the portrayal is accurate or not is irrelevant. The film may center on the killers, but it's not about them as much as it;s about their relationship and, more broadly, gendered power dynamics.
As the film progresses and we learn more about the characters, we begin to understand how their relationship functions and how their own psychological states foster a certain grisly co-dependence. That being said, director Ben Young doesn’t seem to be interested in humanizing them or being sympathetic. Rather, the film seeks to portray their characters honestly and without compromise, letting their actions reveal who they really are with a focus on their psychology.
In that regard, Hounds of Love does a good job illustrating how a charismatic leader can influence a person whose own psychological state is fragile and searching. Once the audience gets to know the characters, the events of the film fall into a cold but logical pattern. If we know of how John and Evelyn think, we can’t imagine the film playing out any other way.
It’s also worth mentioning that the cast is instrumental in being able to bring the story to life. Watching the film, it’s impossible to conceive of it without the trio of Booth, Curry, and Cummings in the lead roles. Booth especially plays the damaged and fragile Evelyn with skill, oscillating between fury, sadness, and submission in a way that is fluid and consistent with the character.
Young and his Director of Photography, Michael McDermott, deserve additional praise for the look of the film, which effortlessly evokes summertime and the careless abandon of youth. At the same time, it’s the combination of the excellent synth-driven soundtrack and the film’s production design that drives home the '80s setting. Such aesthetic trappings could have been disastrous had they been more overt and in-your-face, but Young exercises restraint and the film avoids becoming '80s worship.
Hounds of Love may not be reinventing anything, but it does a great job of breathing life into what is usually a tired horror narrative.