Hounds of Love (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (29th January 2018).
The Film

Hounds of Love (Ben Young, 2016)

Christmastime, 1987; Perth in Western Australia. John and Evie White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) abduct a teenage girl after watching her at a netball game. In their suburban home, they torture the girl to death, John burying the body in an area of woodland.

Teenager Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) lives an unhappy life following her parents’ separation, which Vicki blames on her mother Maggie (Susie Porter). Whilst staying with Maggie, Vicki sneaks out to a late-night party. On the way, she encounters John and Evie, who offer to sell Vicki some marijuana. Vicki is lulled into a false sense of security by the couple, who invite her into their home and offer her a drink. However, the drink is spiked and Vicki falls unconscious. John and Evie tie her to a bedframe in one of the bedrooms.

The next day, John leaves Evie and Vicki alone. In the streets, John is harassed by two men who claim John owes them money. Meanwhile, Evie orders Vicki to write a letter to Maggie, telling her that Vicki has decided to elope to Adelaide with a new beau.

At night, with Evie absent, John rapes Vicki, but Vicki defecates out of fear. John hurriedly cleans up the mess, but is interrupted by Evie. Evie is clearly jealous of John’s fascination with Vicki. However, John attempts to turn Evie around by sharing with her the ‘pleasure’ of torturing Vicki.

Meanwhile, Maggie finds that the police are indifferent to the disappearance of her daughter; the police tell Maggie that most cases of missing teenagers ‘sort themselves out’, revealing their ‘victims’ to be runaways rather than abductees. Maggie resolves to scour the streets in order to find Vicki.

Set in 1987 and presumably intentionally sharing its title with the Kate Bush album from 1985, Hounds of Love was partially inspired by Eric Edgar Cooke, the serial killer from Perth who was nicknamed the ‘Night Caller’, and David and Catherine Birnie, the husband-and-wife who shared fantasies about rape and murder before abducting and killing four women in their home in Willagee, Perth. The Birnies were caught after their fifth victim escaped. Hounds of Love takes these events as its inspiration, the film’s narrative echoing the case of Kate Moir, the fifth victim of the Birnies, who told police that David Birnie had held her at knifepoint and made her make a telephone call to her mother in which she suggested that she (Moir) had drunk too much and was spending the night at the house of a friend. In the film, Vicki is held at knifepoint by Evie, who makes Vicki write letters to her parents telling them that she has eloped with a new beau.

The film opens with a scene that has some echoes of the opening moments of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1977): young women playing netball, depicted in a montage of fetishistic slow-motion shots that emphasise the girls’ torsos and legs. These images are accompanied on the soundtrack by a persistent, eerie droning. After a while, it’s revealed that these shots are presented from the point of view of a man (later revealed to be John, but here facing away from the camera) who is sitting in a car. The fetishistic slow-motion is motivated by the private fantasies of this individual. The camera, positioned in the rear of the car between the front seats, slowly zooms out to reveal that John isn’t alone in the car: his voyeuristic pursuit of the girls playing netball is shared by a woman (Evie) who is seated in the passenger seat. John and Evie are shown following the girl in their car, abducting her under the pretext of offering her a life. Shortly afterwards, we are shown a montage depicting the aftermath of the girl’s murder: the outside of the Whites’ home, a boarded up window depicted via a tortuously slow, ominous zoom in to it; inside, a blood-caked garrotte; bloody tissues; ropes caked in dried blood; a girl’s arms bound with rope. In another room, John and Evie lie in bed together, unfazed by the brutality of the crime they have committed.

Later, John disposes of the body whilst at home, Evie is shown in photographs with a young child: her son, from whom she is alienated and for which the pet dog is a substitute. The same day, after John has returned home, music is used counterpunctively: ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ is heard playing on a radio in the background as Evie tidies up the crime scene, collecting bloody tissues from the floor.

Most film depictions of serial killers focus on lone ‘rogue’ males, such as Ed Gein (Bob Clark’s Deranged, 1974; Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, 1960) or Henry Lee Lucas (John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1986), or sometimes groups of men (Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974; Chuck Parello’s The Hillside Strangler, 2004). Hounds of Love belongs to a smaller group of films that focus on killer couples. This subgenre includes Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and also ‘lovers on the run’ films such as Joseph H Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950) and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967).

John and Evie’s relationship is unsettling. As the film opens, it’s clear that the pair have already abducted and murdered a number of girls and young women. The fact that they are a married couple seems to disarm their victims, lulling them into a false sense of security. The presence of their captives seems to act as an aphrodisiac for the couple, who kiss and fondle one another in the presence of Vicki. (‘I’m John, and this here’s my queen, Evie’, John introduces the couple to Vicki when they see her in the street.) However, Evie displays a profound sense of insecurity about her relationship with John, becoming sexually jealous of Vicki and the fascination Vicki exerts upon John. (‘There’s something about you that makes me want you all to myself’, John tells Vicki.) Whilst Evie is out of the house, in a scene made more unpleasant by the use of extremely tight compositions showing John removing Vicki’s underwear and laying on top of her, John rapes Vicki; the terror of the act results in Vicki emptying her bowels. John hurriedly attempts to clear up the mess. When Evie returns home, she finds John cleaning up the faeces. Evie immediately becomes suspicious of John’s sexual fascination with Vicki, behaving as if Vicki is a rival for John’s affections.

Evie and John’s relationship is founded on the fact that John ‘rescued’ Evie from Evie’s husband (‘I got you away from your dad, and that fat mongrel Mick’), though this also resulted in Evie being estranged from her young son. Evie’s son is shown in photographs with his mother, and a number of times in the film Evie attempts to make contact with her ex-husband and, through him, her son; Evie’s attempts to telephone her former family mirror Evie’s own demands that Vicki write a letter to her mother explaining that she has met a man and decided to elope to another part of the country. (This is a lie intended to throw Vicki’s family off the scent.) John has bought Evie a dog which is intended to function as a substitute for Evie’s absent son. One of the major turning points in the film comes when the dog defecates on the floor of the house (an act which connects the creature with Vicki and her previous act of defecation during the rape) and, incensed by this, John cruelly kicks the animal to death. Vicki, who has invested in the dog her feelings regarding her son, is devastated and recognises John for the cruel, pathetic man that he is.

For his part, John is a fallen man who, the film suggests, finds a sense of power and control over his victims which is absent in other areas of his life. Several sequences into the film, after the film has gone some way towards depicting John as a stoic killer who seems in absolute control over himself, we see John visiting some shops where he is accosted by a man who reminds John that he owes him money. John is visibly shaken, clearly seeing the other man as a threat. In subsequent scenes, John is shown increasingly out of control, unable to resist raping Vicki and, ultimately, kicking Evie’s beloved dog to death over a minor infraction. At the film’s climax, the man to whom John is in debt knocks on John and Evie’s door. The editing suggests that it may be Maggie who is knocking in search of Vicki, but when John answers the door, it is revealed that Maggie is knocking on the door of one of John and Evie’s neighbours: the knock on the Whites’ door was by John’s creditor, demanding his money.

Hounds of Love offers an eerie, unsettling depiction of the activities of its two murderous antagonists, the rhythm of the editing creating a slow accumulation of dread within the unspectacular suburban setting in which the cruel events take place, calling to mind Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase identifying ‘the banality of evil’ and being somewhat reminiscent of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The film’s depiction of the cruel and murderous actions of John and Evie is elliptical but deeply disturbing: little is shown in the rape scene, for example, but the scene is traumatising thanks to the tight compositions and the sound design. At times, Hounds of Love panders to regressive stereotypes: for example, Evie’s maternal instincts, long established through her distant relationship with her son and her treatment of the Whites’ pet dog Lulu, predictably begin to kick in towards the end of the picture, Evie’s status as a mother alienated from her child mirroring Maggie’s fractious relationship with Vicki. However, inviting inevitable comparisons with Justin Kurzel’s debut feature Snowtown (2011), Hounds of Love is an impressive feature film debut from director Ben Young, who handles the material with a confidence manifested in the picture’s deliberate sense of pace.





Video

Hounds of Love is presented in 1080p, using the AVC codec. The main feature takes up 25.9Gb of space on its Blu-ray disc.

Uncut and with a running time of 108:00 mins, Hounds of Love is presented in its intended aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The film’s photography is exceptional, cinematographer Michael McDermott orchestrating incredibly slow zooms/dollies in order to communicate a subtle sense of unease. The photography is stately, even languorous at times, with rigid compositions and superb lighting. McDermott’s approach to shooting the predominantly suburban setting recalls the eerie photography of Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson.

The film was shot digitally, on the Arri Alexa Plus, the Alexa Mini and the Vision Research Phantom (the latter used for the slow motion scenes, including the film’s opening). This Blu-ray presentation is therefore a compressed digital clone of a digital source. Featuring a solid encode to disc which presents no noticeable problems, the presentation features a strong level of detail and sense of depth to the image, with the photography often using staging-in-depth for the purposes of juxtaposition. Colour is naturalistic, and contrast levels are evenly balanced, midtones offering a strong sense of definition and both shadows and highlights being controlled nicely.




Audio

The film is presented with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. This has good depth and range and is free from issues, the soundscape creating a strong sense of immersion through the use of ambient sounds. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included. These are easy to read and accurate in transcribing the film’s dialogue.

Extras

The disc includes:
- Interviews with cast members Stephen Curry (4:02), Emma Booth (4:15) and Ashleigh Cummings (2:52). The actors talk about their characters and reflect on elements of their performances.

- Two behind the scenes featurettes: a behind the scenes reel (5:22) and a featurette depicting Emma to Evie Make-up Transformation (1:11). The latter focuses on the make-up used to turn actor Emma Booth into Evie White.

- Two short films: ‘Something Fishy’ (13:13) and ‘Bush Basher’ (15:40). These are director Ben Young’s previous shorts.

- Music video (5:31). This music video was directed by Ben Young.

- A trailer (1:59).

Overall

A strong contribution to the subgenre of serial killer pictures, Hounds of Love may be a challenging film for many viewers regardless of the fact that the film isn’t actually very explicit. The picture’s elliptical depiction of violence is made more disturbing by the exceptional photography and sound design. The film builds towards a climax that is arguably a little weak and dependent on some slightly overripe clichés, but as a whole Hounds of Love is an impressive feature film debut.

Arrow’s Blu-ray release contains a solid presentation of the film, which is a digitally shot feature, and is accompanied by some relevant contextual material – though most of this is of the primarily promotional variety. The inclusion of Ben Young’s two short films is worthy of specific mention, however.








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