Before I even begin to discuss Ben Young’s Hounds of Love it must be said that this film is not for the faint of heart. I dare to say it is not for the good of heart either, meaning those who’ve managed to navigate this world and keep its dark realities at bay. There is an ugliness at the center of this elegantly crafted horror that cannot be unseen or unfelt. It is the kind of ugliness that parents hide their children from knowing even exists until it inevitably filters through via the news or – in the worst scenarios – real life events. It’s as hard to watch as any theatrically released film in 2017 is likely to be, but for those able to bare witness there is something utterly compelling to see.
Emma Booth (Gods of Egypt) stars opposite Stephen Curry as Evelyn and John White, a sadistic couple who routinely prey upon, kidnap, rape, and murder teen girls. They do this together, as a single unit, and they get off on it. Their home is on a street like any other in a town like any other, and if you passed them on the street you would assume they were just like anyone else, but John and Evelyn White are the epitome of black souls. There is no light in their world. The only pleasure is the pleasure you create, no matter the expense it wrought upon others.
The majority of the film revolves around the couple’s time with Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), a blonde teen who unfortunately places her trust in the couple after a fight with her mother. She screams and wails, rubbing her flesh raw as she attempts to slip through the handcuffs that keep her chained to a bed most of the day, but her cries for help fall on deaf ears. There is no one to save her except herself, and finding the strength to try anything is no quick journey. To the Whites, Vicki is nothing more than a thing to be played with until they’ve lost interest and then killed. She is treated as less than nothing, but she find hope in attempting to force a wedge between the couple.
The chemistry between Booth and Curry is the perfect explosive combination of lust and violence. They are downright volcanic, collaborating on acts of grotesque violence while abiding by a strict set of rules to keep one another in check that is quietly driving them each insane. You believe they would kill one another if they didn’t rely on one another to stay tethered to the planet, and it’s in selling that relationship that Hounds of Love finds its greatest success. Both Booth and Curry help elevate the material by delivering the kind of performances that will be talked about for the rest of their careers.
It would be easy for a film like Hounds of Love to take the torture porn angle and run with it, leaving behind all sense of character development and emotion in favor of raw, unnerving terror. While those elements certainly exist in this film, made up from the stuff of nightmares no less, it is made all the more appalling by the time Young spends allowing us to step inside the life of the Whites and get a real feel for their bleak universe. This approach is certainly not unique to Young, as it has been a trend in Australian horror for the better part of the new millennium, but that does not make it any less effective. Young goes to great lengths to keep things grounded, and because of this there is a visceral element to the storytelling that leaves you walking away feeling the need to bathe the film off your flesh.
Make no mistake: Hounds of Love is going to offend more people than it entertains, but for that niche market willing to go anywhere as long as the story is told well by a talented cast and crew it will be an experience not soon forgotten. There is something oddly refreshing about a film so bold in its depiction of real world terrors arriving at a point when so much of our culture feels restrained by the fear of being called out as obscene or offensive. That said, if you feel like the subject matter here it might be a bit too much don’t feel bad for sitting this one out. Not everything has to be for everyone and that is what makes cinema great. But if you’re curious, and you understand what is in store, I advise you to strap in because Ben Young has crafted an emotionally-driven horror film unlike anything you have seen.