SXSW Review: HOUNDS OF LOVE - A Harrowing Story Of Survival

A great film, but not an easy one to watch.

No one wakes up thinking “What I’d like to do today is watch a deeply disturbing abduction-rape movie”, but Hounds of Love is one worth seeing anyway. It is a hard movie to watch, but it is an extremely strong debut for writer-director Ben Young and features superb performances across the board.

Emma Booth and Australian comedian Stephen Curry play married couple Evelyn and John. Together, the two routinely kidnap young girls, rape them and then murder them afterward. Evelyn takes care of the bed-bound women during the day while John supposedly works and later buries them in the woods.

We don’t know how long they’ve been at it, but it’s certainly not a new practice. The film opens with them abducting and discarding their latest victim before setting their sights on Ashleigh Cummings’ Vicki, a strident teen in the midst of a destabilizing parental divorce.

One would assume this film would focus mostly on Vicki, given that she’s the victim we worry about the whole film, but the plot really belongs to Evelyn. Emma Booth somehow makes this deeply troubled woman sad, conflicted and dangerously feral simultaneously, and it's an out of this world effort. Evelyn’s all in on the raping and murdering, but she’s also doing so at the behest of a deeply abusive husband. She’s a person who just wants to be loved, clearly living through tons of pain and bad experiences. There are times when you almost feel sorry for her. Almost. They don’t last long.

Though bound and frequently gagged, Vicki knows her only chance at survival is to poison the well between Evelyn and John. She’s scared but never stupid, beaten but never weak. She brings uncomfortable truths to Evelyn, which ends up being a very risky tactic, as Evelyn almost immediately starts begging John to kill her early. The film is filled with discomfort and tension and an overwhelming sense of dread for Vicki.

Stephen Curry’s John is terrifying. Any rapist character would be, but the severity of Curry’s face indicates an intelligent, animal nature that makes him seem especially dangerous. Even more, the film offers a brief look at this king once he’s out of his tiny castle, getting bullied by thugs until he can come home and rule again. Without pushing things too hard, we know this guy, and in knowing him, only grow more frightened. 

Obviously, this isn’t a fun movie, but the filmmaking is exemplary, from the writing to the direction to the performances to its perfect pacing. Young knows how to show you just enough to break your heart, never dipping into the unnecessarily explicit, so while it’s certainly rough, it’s never exploitive.