HOUNDS OF LOVE (Ben Young). 108 minutes. Opens Friday (May 12). See listing. Rating: NN
Hounds Of Love takes its title from a Kate Bush song that doesn’t appear in the film or have anything to do with its story – which would be fine if that were its only shortcoming.
In his feature debut, Australian writer/director Ben Young takes a simple and deeply unpleasant torture-porn narrative – a young woman is abducted by a monstrous suburban couple – and treats it like high art. It very nearly works.
It’s late 1987, and Perth teenager Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) makes the mistake of going home with the outwardly normal, secretly depraved Whites (Stephen Curry, Emma Booth), who lure her with the promise of cheap weed and a quick drink. In short order she’s chained to a bed in the spare room, which is boarded up in a way that tells us the Whites have been doing this for a while.
As the abuses begin (deftly kept out of frame so as not to lose the art-house market), Vicki’s family realizes she’s missing – but in the pre-internet age, their search options are limited. Vicki herself is more resourceful, sussing out the power dynamic in the Whites’ relationship and inserting herself into it like a lever.
All three leads are terrific, bringing their characters to life with appropriate levels of complexity and cunning. Curry, best known as the feckless lead of cult comedy The Castle, is unrecognizable as the weedy, menacing John, while Booth, of Gods Of Egypt and the Netflix series Glitch, is rock solid as his increasingly conflicted thrall, Evelyn. Cummings’s work is especially impressive when you realize she spends about half the picture gagged, acting only with her eyes.
Their work is unimpeachable, and it’s increasingly frustrating to watch Young let it slowly boil away to nothing. The filmmaker strains to show us how much thought he’s put into every shot: Look at that glossy slow-motion imagery! Consider those retro-cool soundtrack cuts! But all his choices serve to render Hounds Of Love grindingly monotonous as it crawls toward a climax we can see coming from a mile away.