Review: Hounds of Love

Set in Perth in the mid-to-late 80s, teenager Ashleigh Cummings has divorced parents and isn’t enjoying living under mother Susie Porter’s roof on weekends. Mum’s a bit of a hard task master who puts education well before fun. Grounded, Cummings (who gets her boyfriend to do her school assignments) sneaks out one night to go to a party but on the way she’s approached by couple Emma Booth and Stephen Curry who offer her a lift and some dope to smoke. Cummings unwisely accepts the lift from the friendly couple, who quickly suggest they stop off at their house for the weed. Before Cummings knows it, a doped-up Cummings is attacked, tied up and put in a spare bedroom of their house. They’ve done this kidnapping deal before, and it usually doesn’t end well for the victim. She’s subjected to much abuse from the creepy Curry (who is useless and wimpy outside the confines of his own house, it seems), whilst devoted, downtrodden wife Booth starts to get jealous of the ‘attention’ he’s giving the girl. Meanwhile, mum and dad (the latter played by Damian de Montemas) start to get worried when Cummings doesn’t come home.

A journey some of you may not wish to take, this 2017 kidnapping flick from debut writer-director Ben Young is undeniably well-made and effective. Young gives us an immediately convincing 1980s suburban Perth, and it’s also unsettling from around that very first moment, too. Just about everything in the film is authentic, including the broken home Ashleigh Cummings comes from, as well as Cummings’ performance itself (though if you’re a know-it-all like me, you might initially find it difficult to accept Cummings as a teenager given she’s actually 25 years old. I think she should probably start playing adults now). I’m not sure boyfriends tend to do their girlfriends’ homework for them, though. It’s usually the girls who are smarter, but I’ll defer to the filmmaker since it’s been 20 odd years since I was in high school.

I particularly liked how especially early on, Young gets everything he needs to get across by showing us only what is necessary. He’s been very careful and dare I say tasteful in that regard. This is no mere exploitation film, if that’s what you are concerned about heading in. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry’s non-comedic performance in this film is the damndest thing. He looks like Stephen Curry, he doesn’t change his voice at all…yet he completely disappears into the role to the point where you know it’s him but you accept the character nonetheless. It’s a terrific against-type casting, he’s skin-crawling without ever going remotely over-the-top. It’s a remarkably mature performance from the usually larrikin, comedic actor and all-round TV (and occasionally film) personality. He and Emma Booth are absolutely sensational, the latter immediately signalling what she’s doing, why she’s doing it, and how little enjoyment she gets out of doing it. Don’t get me wrong, this woman is shown to be very convincing in luring girls into their car to be kidnapped. The film wouldn’t work (nor would the ruse) if she were more obviously uncomfortable. These people need to seem outwardly ‘normal’ in order to be successful kidnappers. However, as much as she’s technically a willing participant here, you can see how Curry has completely dominated and manipulated Booth. She loves him, is devoted to him, will do anything for him…and he fully, disgustingly exploits it. They’re both monstrous people, but she’s the far more complex of the two, Curry’s more your standard psycho with a little surface-level knockabout charm. However, the normally affable actor’s eyes here are completely, chillingly dead. As for Booth’s final actions, I’m not sure I 100% buy it, but the filmmaker is smart enough to give her a reason for doing what she does. I personally don’t think she has in her what would be necessary to do it, but the motivation at the very least is credibly there.

The film uses amazingly effective, slow, lingering camerawork showing everyday suburban life…and that one house with the window boarded off. Meanwhile, I loathe The Moody Blues’ funereal ‘Nights in White Satin’, but even I can’t deny it’s put to unsettling use here in a drugging scene. I’d prefer a Nick Cave murder ballad but I understand why the filmmaker chose to use Cat Stevens’ beautiful and haunting ‘Lady D’Arbanville’ at one point. It’s a great song and it’s technically about a dead girl…just not in the same context as what’s going on in this film. The only flaw with the film, if there even is any would be that it might be a tad simple and well-worn for some. You’ve definitely seen this type of story before and with more complexity. For me though, I’m more interested in the fact that it’s exceptionally well-done. It matters much more to me how a film deals with what it is, not just what it is about and simplicity isn’t a credible flaw.

This isn’t based on any particular true story, but some who lived through the place and period have attested to it being rather similar to incidents that really did happen. Being somewhat aware of the case of David and Catherine Birnie (a murderous couple from the time period in WA), this film certainly felt very authentic to me. One of the best films of 2017, this is a dark and disturbing film, but although rather simple it’s still incredibly effective and very, very well-made. You may have trouble looking at Stephen Curry the same way after this.

Rating: B


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