Hounds of Love, the debut film from writer/director Ben Young, is only 'inspired' by the Birnie murders of 1986. The horrendous real-life details of several killings have been scrambled and compressed into the story of Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), the abductee of Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). The reason Young's film works is because, rather than just senselessly depicting the ordeal of the Birnie's victims, it expands on the unhappy misogynistic self-loathing psychology of its Catherine-figure, telling a convincing story of emotional manipulation and abuse.
Hounds of Love is set in Perth in the late 1980s. Young's way of setting the period is a bit pastiche-y – the title's font is VHS-glitchy in a way that recalls grungy slasher flicks, and the soundtrack is a little too carefully curated – but his film's sense of place is perfect. The Whites live under the heavy Australian sun in depressed suburbs, a place that's all flimsy bungalows with smeary formica kitchens and barking dogs. It's a uncomfortably believable environment for them and frames them as realistic figures: two uninspired losers with screws loose, not inexplicable movie psychos.
Vicki lives there too, and she's not happy about it. Her mother has moved out of the family home and so, for two nights a week, she has to stay with her in the most dreary town imaginable. Parties offer a little respite, and it's while sneaking out of the house to attend one that she's offered some weed and a lift by the harmless-seeming Whites. She accepts. Within hours she's chained to a bed, and facing rape and torture.
So far, so nasty. Fortunately, Hounds of Love transcends its grim exploitation-flick premise. Vicki, a literal prisoner of the Whites', starts to notice that Evelyn is a (willing) psychological prisoner of John's. Her chance at escape depends on convincing Evelyn of this fact, something that turns out to be a very risky business. Suddenly her mother's desire to be an 'independent woman' doesn't seem so pathetic.
It's not an easy watch, obviously, but by having psychological truths where similar films have only cheap thrills or empty analysis (see Berlin Syndrome), Hounds of Love ends up being a worthwhile one.
|What||Hounds of Love|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
|Website||Click here for more details|