What to say about Hounds of Love? It is expertly made and has compelling performances. However, and for some audiences this could be a big however, it is extremely unsettling to watch and, ultimately, gruelling. This is the kind of story that takes its audiences behind the headlines or the news items on television about murders, abductions and psychological and violent torture.
The acting is first rate, to be commended. Ashleigh Cummings is Vicki, the 17-year-old whose parents have separated, who bonds with her father but blames her mother for walking out on the marriage and ruining her life. Stephen Curry, rather puny in many ways, with is self-assertive moustache, is John, who lives in the street a couple of blocks away from Vicki and her mother. Perhaps best performance of all is from Emma Booth as Evelyn, John’s partner, wanting to bring her two young children to live with them.
The film quickly establishes a tone and mood as the audience watches a group of schoolgirls playing netball, the view from a car, voyeuristic, an obsessive gazing at the girls, then one of the players being offered a lift home, accepting…
When Vicki decides to defy her mother go out one night to a party, she is offered a lift by John and Evelyn, quietly chatty, pleasantly persuasive, offering some drugs, with Vicki getting into the car, going to their home, Evelyn nicely persuading her to come inside and have a drink – which is drugged.
Much of the rest of the film takes place inside the home, disturbing for the audience because this is Perth 1987, December, in ordinary suburbs, in ordinary houses, in ordinary streets, with ordinary people living quiet lives. But, inside the house, John and Evelyn, portrayed in an increasingly co-dependent way, especially for Evelyn, who was been with John since she was 13, loving him, her sexual intensity, yet his using her. He buys her a dog which prevents Vicki trying to escape – but there is a later scene with the dog who has a habit of sorting the floor inside, provoking John to sadistic anger which may be the trigger point for the resolution of the film.
With the audience empathising with Vicki and her being tied up, emotionally drained, abused, there seems to be very little letup. John exhibits no qualities which would make him likeable let alone audiences empathising with him. On the other hand, there is always an ambiguity about Evelyn which makes her character the most interesting, audiences understanding her co-dependence while wishing she could see through it, but dismayed at her often sadistic behaviour, a seemingly innate cruelty and, while she can’t dominate John although he depends on her, she can dominate Vicki.
The audience has seen Vicki with her parents, Damien de Montemas her father, and, impressively, Susie Porter (who also played the mother of the victim girl in Don’t Tell) as her mother, trying to deal with her daughter’s antagonism and the desperation of her disappearance. And there is a cameo by Harrison Gilbertson as Vicki’s boyfriend who has a key role in leading towards some kind of resolution because of the letter that John and Evelyn force Vicki to write saying that she had gone to Adelaide and that they were not to worry.
There have been similar kinds of stories from the United States and other countries, often the basis for horror films or genre films with touches of blood and gore. This film is rather different, while it has some graphic moments, it is more of a cinema study of the psyches of two serial killers and of their relationship as well as of the frightening impact on the abducted girl.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting