SXSW Film Festival Movie Review: HOUNDS OF LOVE (2017)

HOUNDS OF LOVE is a film that sinks its teeth into your flesh and never lets go.  It’s raw and unapologetic and it’s one of the few movie I’ve seen where I felt hollow on the inside as I watched the story unfold.  That’s not to say that the film is bad, on the contrary, the film is incredibly well done with some of the best performances I’ve seen all year.  The film centers around three key figures: Vicki, the abductee, and Evelyn and John, the abductors.  Knowing that her time is limited, Vicki must find a way to drive a wedge between Evelyn and John’s relationship in order to survive. The film is directed by Ben Young and stars Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, and Stephen Curry.

The story is pretty straight-forward, Evelyn and John have a penchant for kidnapping young women, torturing them, then murdering them without any real reason.  They are calculating and cold and one of the main reasons why this film is so difficult to watch.  They lure their innocent victims in by appearing “normal” and helpful; on the outside they are just a happy couple wanting to help out someone in need.  That’s what’s so frightening, it highlights the notion that you really can’t trust anyone. The film, which is set during the 80’s in Australia, was a time when people still left their doors unlocked and weren’t worrying so much that there may be a serial killer on the loose.  The realistic nature that is conveyed on screen is brutal and heart-wrenching and is very reminiscent of such serial killer films as HENRY: A PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.

As for the acting, it was top-notch, with each performance showcasing superb talent.  Emma Booth was breathtaking in her portrayal of Evelyn.  Though she’s brutal, she’s absolutely captivating on screen, and you can’t help but feel a range of emotions towards her character especially since her identity is wound tightly around the approval of John and wanting to make him happy, no matter the cost.  Stephen Curry is just as captivating as John, though one is more likely to feel hatred towards his character and the things that he does.  This is not to say Evelyn’s decision are any less damaging, but there is something about John that can make one’s skin crawl.  Ashleigh Cummings was phenomenal as Vicki and I can see why she was chosen for the role.  She exudes an inner strength that was the perfect offset to the chaos and carnage that Evelyn and John brought.

There’s also an underlying theme within the film that focuses on the mother and daughter.  Vicki is struggling due to the divorce of her parents which has caused a rift between her and her mother.  The theme of a mother-daughter relationship travels throughout the film from the beginning until the end as Vicki’s mother tries to make sense of what has happened to her daughter.  It made me think back on my relationship with my mom, which in the past has had some major issues but knowing that no matter what happens she will always be there for me and I will always be there for her.  The same can be said for Vicki’s mother who stops at nothing in her desperate search to find out where her daughter is.  That bond between a mother and daughter is unbreakable and I appreciated how director Ben Young highlighted that during the movie.

As for the violence, there is plenty of it. As I mentioned above, the film has a very realistic feel to it and that extends to the violence itself.  At times it’s hard to watch and even harder to remind yourself that it’s not real.  Luckily, there is no excessive gore, meaning that there isn’t any appendages hanging on for dear life or eyeballs out of their sockets.  However, I will give you this warning, if you have a hard time watching an animal die then you may want to shield yourself from viewing this film.  I had no idea going in that something of that nature was going to happen and it was a shock to my system when that scene played out.  Other than that one scene, if you are someone that doesn’t mind intense violence in a film, you won’t have much to worry about.

Overall, HOUNDS OF LOVE is one of the best films I have seen this year and one of the top films to come out of SXSW.  The only issue that I had was with the ending as I felt that it was too predictable.  I can see why the director went this route, but I felt that the overall film had such a strong feeling of intensity and hopelessness that I would have liked to have seen an ending that didn’t seem too “perfect” and predictable.  Regardless, this film is still way above par and really gives viewers an insight into how unhinged and dangerous people can be. HOUNDS OF LOVE left me feeling uncomfortable and disturbed, and honestly, it’s been quite some time since I’ve truly felt that way.  With all that said, this is definitely a film that you will not want to miss out on.

Shannon McGrew
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