LABEL DISTRIBUTION / GUNPOWDER & SKY (2017)
Director: Ben Young
Starring: Emma Booth, Stephen Curry, Ashleigh Cummings, Susie Porter, Damian de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson
Australians are just great at crafting filthy, dirty and hard-hitting flicks (see: Wolf Creek, The Loved Ones, The Babadook, Snowtown) and with his debut offering, Ben Young’s Hounds of Love joins the illustrious canon.
Don’t expect a Kate Bush biopic here. The movie centres on John (Curry) and Evelyn (Booth), a tense couple who spend their days circling the suburbs of Perth for young girls to abduct and have their un-merry ways with. It’s a grubby, wrenching movie that’s power is in its realism (it is loosely based on David and Catherine Bernie’s Moorhouse murder spree in 1986) and the compelling trio of performances that all capture something very different.
Opening to a close-up, slow-motion scene of young girls playing netball, we are immediately introduced to John and Evelyn, who are seen watching in from a distance ready to pounce. It’s their lucky day as one young girl takes a walk by herself and is offered a lift home. She never makes it home. Instead, she is taken to the home of the two lovers and beaten, abused and raped – all before being killed and buried in dense woodland. Sounds like a hoot? It doesn’t get any lighter.
Vicki Malone (Cummings) is a conflicted young girl – happy with her boyfriend Jason (Gilbertson), she enjoys life with her father Trevor (de Montemas) but can’t stand to be in her estranged mother Maggie’s (Porter) company. With a party looming, she is at Maggie’s house that evening as part of her divorced parent’s mutual agreement, but she has no intention of staying at home. Dolled up to the nines, she sneaks out of the window and heads to the party, but there’s a couple out lurking that night looking for their own party. Long story short, Vicki is coerced back to theirs with the promise of marijuana but instead finds herself drugged and chained to a bed. It is here that the claustrophobic, psychological assault begins, all framed by the beige settings of the couple’s austere lodgings. John and Evelyn, however, aren’t quite rock solid and Vicki’s presence unsettles Evelyn – something Vicki picks up on.
Rape, abuse, murder, animal beating, kidnapping, subjects shitting themselves – a few ingredients of Hounds of Love. Ben Young is unflinching in his delivery of a controversial subject, and one that often descends into mere action and escape in other movies, not here though. This is a brutal picture and not recommended for those with weak tolerance levels. The brightest part of the movie is the Australian sun.
As the cracks unfold, Vicki tries her damnedest to get into Evelyn’s head in an attempt to forge an understanding that will get her out of there. Evelyn is a conflicted woman, her children have been taken out of her custody because of John and she becomes jealous of his attentions toward other women. Thankfully, this isn’t quite a by-numbers affair where the next move is obvious, Young being more intelligent in his crafting.
The three central performances are crucial and all pulled off with vicious aplomb. Cummings transforms from stroppy teen to a coiling, stained and petrified victim in an obviously difficult role. Curry performs a complete about-turn from his usual, comedic performances as menace and unchecked depravity seep from his every pore – but outside of his own kingdom, he is shown to be nothing more than weak. Booth, too, is enthralling as Evelyn, combining vulnerability and danger within her ticking time-bomb of a mind. Her insanity is cloaked by a need to be loved, but the discord between her and John is palpable.
What Young does well, and something that is ignored by many horror directors of today, is to imply rather than gratuitously show. The majority of the hard events within the movie happen off-screen, allowing for the viewer to create an image of what is happening in these moments – something that is generally a lot more effective in creating the uneasy sensation the director is after. Without showing all the horror, the movie remains brutal - what happens before the camera cuts away or the doors close is ruthless enough to create the dread.
“Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues won’t sound the same anymore.
More than just a standard abduction, torture and action-escape movie, Hounds of Love creates something altogether different. Focusing on the abductors fragile mind sets and positions in life, the movie creates a compelling story set against the ferocious actions they inflict on their victim. Not just ‘torture porn’, this is something smarter and, in movie terms, far more satisfying.
Listen to your parents, kids.
August 5th 2017