Film Review: HOUNDS OF LOVE (Australia 2016) ****

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houndsoflove.jpgVicki Maloney is randomly abducted from a suburban street by a disturbed couple.

Director: Ben Young
Writer: Ben Young
Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 Not wholly original, but still absorbing, HOUNDS OF LOVE, writer/director Ben Young’s story of an abducted teenager by a disturbed couple pays homage to David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET. The slow motion beginning of HOUNDS OF LOVE and the common theme of kidnapping reminds cineastes immediately of BLUE VELVET.

HOUNDS OF LOVE is supposed to be based on true events – macabre as they may be. The setting is 1987, Perth, Australia whee a seemingly typical Australian suburban couple have a secret hobby – kidnapping schoolgirls and murdering them. But their latest desperate victim finds ways inside their heads.

The slow motioned tracking shot of schoolgirls playing netball after school is stunning as it is eerie. One can tell something is going to happen – the abduction of the first victim of the kidnapping couple. For those unfamiliar with the game (played in places like Britain, Australia and Singapore where this reviewer was born), the scene is even more fascinating with the girls in netball outfits tossing a ball into a net.

The film then settles on the next victim. Vicki (Ashley Cummings), a rebellious teen, is first seen in the film after having ‘it’ with her boyfriend Jason (Harrison Gilbertson). Vicki is staying with her mother, Maggie (Susie Porter) who she cannot get along with. After being grounded, Vicki sneaks off to a party at night when she is abducted by Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry). The audience would likely think that this is what Vicki deserves, after misbehaving and disobedience. But then, no human being should go through what she does in the next few days.
The one thing that stands out in this film (and differentiates from Lynch’s BLUE VELVET) is director Young’s ability to connect his audience with his characters.

Director Young devotes a lot of time towards his female characters. Evelyn is shown to be the most sympathetic of the film’s characters. She loves her dog, her partner-in-crime, John (a real nasty piece of work) and is just caught with all the bad luck. The audience ends up sympathizing with both her as well as Vicki. Vicki’s mother, Maggie is also portrayed as a strong mother, who despite having to take s*** from her daughter, loves her to no end and will not give up in the search for her. The father, Trevor (Damian de Montemas) and Jason are hilariously given token roles.

What is impressive too are the top notch performances all around. Emma Booth carries the lead role confidently as well as the two other women Cummings and Porter. Stephen Curry who plays the nastiest villain seen in a while, looks completely different (most remembered from the Aussie film THE CASTLE) with his tacky moustache. Young spends some time with him grooming his moustache in the mirror before strutting out of the bathroom like a stud.

The film is expectedly violent and the ending matches the violence of BLUE VELVET without resorting to tricks like the cutting off of an ear. The climax of the film is a real nail-biter.

HOUNDS OF LOVE unsettled festival audiences in Venice and at SXSW and will definitely do the same with audiences everywhere. Young is clearly a talent to watch. Universal Pictures has already signed him on to direct the new 2018 sci-fi thriller EXTINCTION.



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