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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tribeca Review: On Motherhood, Predators, and the Disturbing Thriller HOUNDS OF LOVE

Rarely does a horror filmmaker come out the gate with a narrative so layered and complex, yet so primal that it stays in your mind long after you've seen it. Such is the case of Ben Young, whose first feature, the '80s-set Australian horror HOUNDS OF LOVE, will leave you with conflicting emotions of terror and empathy toward its bats**t crazy villains.

To call HOUNDS OF LOVE, inspired by real-life serial killer couple David and Catherine Birnie, uncomfortable would be an understatement. Through overhead camera angles and slow motion shots, it immediately places the audience into the role of a peeping tom, a pervert peering over playful, innocent scenes of youth as the opening credits cascade across the screen, then eavesdropping over the most intimate, fragile conversations between lovers and family. For that, it's simultaneously manipulative as it is just plain old creepy. But it creates a sense of balance in how you view each of the characters, all vulnerable in their own right, though some we learn are far more unhinged than others.

Take for instance, Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings). She's a typical teenage girl, carefree, loves her boyfriend. Sure, she may be dealing with some broken home issues (her mother left her dad and now lives in her own place), but she's generally pretty expected. So generic that when she sneaks out of her mother's house in the middle of the night to go to a party, we don't blink an eye.

Then there's Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry), the maniacal couple across the way who we quickly learn are more than a little off. We meet them at the dawn of morning as they lie still in bed. Evelyn gets up and immediately assumes her position in the kitchen, cooking breakfast. Her wild-eyed hubby's first deed of the day is the brutal attack of a dog we discover is one of theirs. So when the two are seen trolling the streets in their car at the exact same time as Vicki is strolling down the street, we instantly know that this inevitable encounter will not end well.

But a standard abduction thriller this is not. In fact, HOUNDS OF LOVE is more of a psychological thriller that weaponizes maternal desires, as represented through Evelyn's desperation to keep Vicki in her home and her obsession with her dogs. But the film also uses the idea of motherhood, and Evelyn's lack of it, to create terrifying insecurity in her marriage—something so evident that even Vicki, while tied up to a bed post, sees instantly. It's that internalized rage, something undoubtedly aggravated by society's view of women's roles, that further intensifies the narrative and propels Vicki to resort to matters of intimacy for survival.

Each of the performances are solid, including Susie Porter who plays Vicki's mother. But it is Booth who steals the movie. As seductive as she is cripplingly anxious, she is absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

Rating: **** out of *****

Watch the trailer:


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