Nobody ever really knows what’s happening just down the road. It’s 1987 in suburban Australia, and locals are barely aware that a girl has gone missing. Posters bearing her face are torn and ignored. Certainly, nobody has any inkling that a pair of serial killers is moving among them, luring teenagers into their home, subjecting them to rape and torture, then dumping their bodies in the woods. Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sees little reason to be worried about entering a strange home to buy drugs for a party, until the door is padlocked behind her.
Hounds Of Love is not strictly what you’d call an enjoyable time at the cinema, but it’s an endurance test worth taking. Writer-director Ben Young’s debut will leave you wrungout, with heart racing and palms sweating, but also invigorated by the birth of a brilliant new filmmaking talent.
What makes Young’s depiction of Vicki’s walk into hell so effective is how normal he makes her surroundings. The home of her captors, John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), is a boring prefab. There are bills on the table. Evelyn potters around as Vicki lies chained to a bed. The mundanity of it makes Vicki’s horror stand out all the more vividly. Young doesn’t whip his camera around or go in for quick, jumpy cuts to scare the audience, but lazily moves through the action, watching distantly as John and Evelyn wander into Vicki’s room, closing the door behind them. Young doesn’t invite us in, but that doesn’t stop unwanted images, powered by his suggestion, clawing inside your head and settling into the darkest corners. Dan Luscombe’s synth-led score and ’80s hits from Joy Division and Cat Stevens are all used to haunting effect.
The film is driven by three savage central performances. Booth particularly is shattering, making Evelyn a broken woman who asked the worst possible man to fix her. Young gives us every side of his characters, finding the good and the bad and examining how the balance got thrown so wildly off. He gives us monsters all the more frightening because, in enough tiny ways, they’re just like the rest of us.