Hounds of Love review: hard to justify this punshing psychodrama

Australian director Ben Young’s horror debut is well-crafted but basically torture porn

Hounds of Love: fans of Kate Bush are advised to steer clear of this icky Ozploitation flick

Film Title: Hounds of Love

Director: Ben Young

Starring: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 108 min

Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 05:00

   

Ozploitation used to refer to the cheap and cheerful genre pictures that emerged from Australia during the late 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, however, the term has shifted semantically to cover such unsettling, gritty, and often True Crime-based dramas as Snowtown and Wolf Creek.

In common with that picture and the recent and highly controversial Playground (which was loosely inspired by the Jamie Bulger case), Ben Young’s brilliantly crafted debut feature is careful to alter certain aspects of its real-life antecedents. It cannot, however, entirely escape the ethical quagmire that comes with mining biography for entertainment.

In 1986, David Birnie led police to the graves of four young women that he and his wife Catherine had abducted, raped and killed over a five-week period.

Hounds of Love is set in the Birnie’s hometown of Perth during the 1980s, and features John and Evelyn, an ordinary-looking suburban couple, who abduct, rape and murder teenage girls, before dumping their bodies. The names have been changed. But not much else.

Drugged and imprisoned

Their latest victim is Vicki, a rebellious teen who sneaks out of the house and unwittingly accepts the offer of a lift home and a joint, only to be drugged and imprisoned. Vicki desperately tries to exploit John and Evelyn’s differences and neuroses in order to stay alive, while her frantic parents mount a search.  

Ashleigh Cummings is terrific as the resourceful victim, Emma Booth brings nuance and a sense of victimhood to the murderous Evelyn, and Stephen Curry is terrifying as John. “Come on, Evie,” he says softly to his wife, as if he were talking her into a picnic. “That’s why she’s here. Let’s make the most of her. Together.”

Interpersonal dynamics

Writer-director Ben Young leeches the ensuing shifting interpersonal dynamics to heart-pounding effect. Slow-pans and a building score amplify the dread. It’s an achievement, of sorts, that a film that plays out its worst horrors off-screen, and behind closed doors, has reignited debate about torture porn. Yet even without the complex moral issues and the rather problematic woman- in-refrigerator narrative, this technically accomplished, punishing psychodrama is hard to justify and even harder to recommend. Genre fans should steel themselves for ickiness and heated post-screening debate.

And Kate Bush fans are plumb out of luck.