I actually needed a few hours in order to collect my thoughts here at SXSW this year. I screened a film called Hounds Of Love and it stayed with me long after it had ended. It actually bled into all other screenings I had that day. It is poetically disturbing and a high mark in the genre world.
The film centers around John and Evelyn (Steven Curry and Emma Booth), a couple who pray on folks in their small town. They use the perceived safety of a couple into luring people into their car and then eventually back to their house where they sexually and mentally torture the unlucky person. When they abduct young Vikki (Asheleigh Cummings) their relationship begins to crack as their dynamic begins to shift.
Almost the entire film takes place within the walls of one house. The time spent in the home gives you a grounded layout and creates an atmosphere pregnant claustrophobia. The film is shot with wide lenses in tight spaces that create a subliminal need to get the hell out of the house. Beautifully shot high frame rate sequences of the suburbs show the minutia of everyday life in mesmerizing detail to contrast the prison that is created in John and Evelyn’s home.
Hounds Of Love speaks on hyperbolic levels of the most toxic and abusive relationships and how easy it is to be enabled by someone in the wrong relationship. Both Evelyn and John have created a world with each other that justifies their sickness, by turning it into sexual deviance and a way to unhealthy way to connect and express their love. Their behavior mimics addicts or those that co-exist with physical abuse between them. The more abusive John becomes the more Evelyn is willing to take him back and the further she is removed from herself.
The cast is insanely good. Stephen Curry creates a bad guy that is one of the most despicable and easily hated bad dudes in recent history. His character’s abusive nature and manipulative ways are shown in terrifying detail. Emma Booth, who I was unfamiliar with prior to this, is someone that everyone needs to keep their eye on. Her ability to zig zag between psychotic assistant to John’s deviance and then to snap back to display a mother’s intuition is staggering. The role requires a lot and her character becomes the center of the narrative because of it. Ashleigh Cumming’s character is the glue that ties the whole narrative together, which with a film this heavy can’t be an easy thing to do. The character she starts off as changes in stages throughout. A happy teenage girl, is forced to endure and share Evelyn and John’s darkness and little by little, she becomes despondent, but finds her character’s strength through that despondence. If I had awards to hand out, these guys would all get one.
Director, Ben Young achieves a film that has echoes of Wes Craven’s early work. The level of suspense and tension he builds, comes with a heavy emotional resonance. Young, uses slow motion in a way I rarely see, he actually uses to propel and at times freeze you in the tension. The shocking last ten minutes of the film, is one sustained note that fills you with a sense of dread for one of the characters. In most films, you can tell early on how things are going to go, who is going to survive and so forth, but this dude never allows you to settle and relax. He is one of those rare filmmakers that creates danger on film with the absence of a safety net.
Hounds Of Love actually shook me. It unraveled me and took me for a terrifying journey, where I was intensely invested in the characters. I can’t even remember the last times I left a theater with my hands shaking or a film that raised my pulse but this one managed to do both and I love it all the more for doing that to me.