Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hounds of Love

It's 1987 in Perth, Australia and murderous couple John and Evelyn roam the streets, looking for victims unbeknowst to their neighbors. By chance, they encounter Vicki Maloney sneaking out of her house to go to a party and lure her to their house with promises of cheap drugs. After toying with her a while, she is drugged and chained to a bed. Vicki has to think of every trick and strategy to escape their sadistic clutches. However, not all is perfect for the couple as Evelyn is obviously unhappy at the arrangement and abused by her husband. Can Vicki escape or will she never get out of that house?

Hounds of Love is a fascinating, hard to watch film that gives dimensions to the each character including Vicki, her mother, and the killer couple. Vicki does drugs, has sex, doesn't do well in school, and blames her mother for her parents' divorce. She has a lot of angst and anger mostly towards her mother, who took a big step down financially to leave her husband which shows it isn't frivolous. Her mother pushes her to be better and stop messing around in a harsh way that pushes her daughter further away and into rebelling. Her teenage transgression of sneaking out should have had a consequence like being grounded, not being abducted by sadists. Despite her lackluster grades, Vicki is quite clever and tries a variety of ways to escape and avoid the worst abuse by her captors. The audience is in Vicki's shoes the entire film, constantly waiting to see what horror awaits her.

Of the couple, John is the most straight forward. He is the driving force behind the abductions and is the only one that derives any real pleasure from it. When we first see him, he seems affable and nice when he picks up Vicki. Underneath that socially acceptable mask, he is cold, calculating, and cruel. Realizing that Evelyn wants to please him and alternately feels jealous and hurt about the abductions, he masterfully plays Evelyn and Vicki against each other so Evelyn will be too busy targeting her anger towards Vicki to rebel. Besides enjoying rape, torture, and absolute power over people, he keeps his home and appearance obsessively clean, which Vicki takes advantage of. The only glimpse of humanity of his is shown a few times in the film when a local gang demeans and harasses him for money. Despite his true nature, John allows them to abuse him and stays meek, only asserting his will when he has absolute power over his wife and his captive. John is an abhorrent person and the least relatable person in the film.

Evelyn is the character that pushes this film into exceptional territory. Emma Booth's portrayal combined with the writing makes her the most nuanced, memorable character. Her children were taken away from her and she is even barred from seeing them or even talking to them on the phone. Of course this doesn't discount her involvement in all the abductions, abuse, and murders, but she is also being abused by John. She hates the abductions, but struggles to live with it for John. At first, the abuse is in his rigid rules and high expectations for housekeeping that come with violent consequences. She feels some sympathy for their victims, but also feels in competition for John's attention and what she perceives as affection. She never lets her guard down, but she occasionally does something nice for Vicki. Her heartbreak when John kicks her dog to death and her sympathy for Vicki's mother is very real and raw. John escalates to physically abusing Evelyn and she remains supportive of him. She wants to be rid of Vicki and doesn't want to face that there will always be another captive girl as long as he is free. I found Evelyn fascinating as part victim and part tormentor.

Hounds of Love is a hard film to watch. The characters are all well acted and written with nuance. The vast majority of the violence (sexual and otherwise) is offscreen and often heard. It makes the film more watchable than putting everything in full view, but imagining what's happening and hearing the sounds is worse sometimes. Moments are incredibly tense, especially each time Vicki attempts to escape. No matter how well thought out her plan, John seems to be one step ahead. The slower pace allows for more character establishment and development which puts this film apart from others in the genre. I highly recommend this film that surprised me with the thorough way each character is portrayed and the restraint with the violent elements without losing any of the impact.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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