FilmReview

Hounds review: Ingenious thriller with a streak of anthracite-black humour

A father and son must dispose of a corpse before morning in lean thriller set in contemporary Casablanca

Abdellatif Masstouri in Hounds
Hounds
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Director: Kamal Lazraq
Cert: None
Starring: Ayoub Elaïd, Abdellatif Masstouri, Mohamed Hmimsa, Abdellah Lebkiri, Lahcen Zaimouzen, Salah Bensalah, Mohammed Kharbouchi
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins

Kamal Lazraq, in his feature debut, has come up with an ingenious, if simple, high concept for a lean thriller that counts contemporary Casablanca as a lead character. The knottily faced Hassan, a grifter who will take on any task, accepts an offer from a hoodlum, aggrieved at the death of a fighting dog, to deliver the owner of the victorious beast. Hassan hooks up with his son Issam, a sharper fellow than Dad, to help, and the two men head off into the longest of nights.

Nothing goes right. Their captive suffocates in the boot of the car and they are required to dispose of the body before morning. Various plans fail to as they move through a city of Dickensian grotesques. The ground is too hard to dig a hole. Everyone who could help wants a piece of the action.

Lazraq’s decision to cast mostly with amateur actors adds greatly to the character of the piece. Abdellatif Masstouri, who plays Hassan with shifty stillness, was working as a street vendor when cast and, unsurprisingly, seems at home on the hustling, bustling locations. Ayoub Elaïd brings believable unease to his performance as Issam, a man being dragged far from his comfort zone.

There is a strong streak of anthracite-black humour in the drama. An attempt to involve a drunken fisherman ends in disaster of face-slapping proportions. The body itself, as bodies will in such things, eventually takes on the quality of absurdist MacGuffin. But the film also profits from its subtle teasing out of the strained relationship between father and son. A deep irony sees Hassan, instigator of the moral disaster, insist that the corpse be afforded the proper religious rites while Issam, who never wanted much part of it, expresses eye-rolling astonishment. “Are you kidding?” he marvels.

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One can just about imagine the picture, which premiered at last year’s Un Certain Regard strand in Cannes, taking place somewhere else, but Amine Berrada’s mobile camera really gets beneath the skin and gristle of Casablanca. One thinks of how Sean Baker shot Los Angeles in Tangerine or Odyssey Flores shot Manilla for Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa. A grim thrill rounded off with a chilling last shot.

Hounds is in cinemas from Friday, June 14th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist