Brutality masterfully unveiled
Hounds of Love is an absolutely brutal film done magnificently.
The debut feature from Australian writer and director Ben Young is loosely based on the Moorhouse Murders; to have such a scenario dreamt up without any preceding material would have intensified the horror to a whole other degree.
Director of photography Michael McDermott did an astounding job, telling so much with the camera that words would have fallen short of.
The 13-minute intro opens in the suburbs of Perth, Australia where teenage girls in school uniforms are frozen in action on a volleyball court. Almost imperceivably slowly, the movement comes to life with close-up shots of the girls’ bodies: fingernails, knees and breasts beneath white, sleeveless collared shirts.
A burnt-gold station wagon, fitting of the 1987 setting, is parked within sight, another slow close-up of the freckled complexions of John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn White (Emma Booth) scoping out the young women as they play.
While Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cumings) walks to her father’s house, the White’s station wagon picks up one of the volleyball players who accepts a lift home rather than walk in the scorching Australian sun of December. We assume this is Gabby, the young woman featured on a ‘Missing Person’ flyer later in the film.
In real life, the Moorhouse Murders’ couple David and Catherine Birnie acted with alarming speed, abducting, raping and torturing five women, four ending up dead, in a single month.
As many teens do, Vicki sneaks out to a party shortly before the White’s approach her on the street. Offering her directions to find a cab, and then to sell her a joint, Vicki still demonstrates a wariness until the White’s unassuming fabrications and Evelyn’s friendly camaraderie finds her inside their shabby bungalow with a drugged cocktail. By the time she registers the reality of the grave circumstances she’s entered, Vicki is sandwiched between the couple, screaming, soon gagged and chained to a bed beneath a boarded-up window.
The attention to 1987 aesthetic detail, from rotary phones and avocado green kitchen appliances to high-waisted jeans and feathered hair, is as authentic as it gets.
Our perpetrators’ twisted side has already been exposed, but Young attempts to demonstrate a conflicting reality of their own capacity for feeling and suffering. Having met John when she was a very young teen, Evelyn had children with another man she married and lost them after returning to John. After Vicki works to convince her that John has been lying and is just using her, Evelyn confronts John who breaks down as a flawed man who needs her love for his own survival.
I did not have the ability to sit still through the abuse, attacks, tortures and escape attempts, but the impact of the horror is a testament to the filmmakers, as well as the actors. While the horror genre is rarely applauded, the performances are disturbingly authentic. The ‘why’ of the film may be thrown into question, but the parallel ‘why’ of such ugly scenarios in life is just as elusive, the existence of which is a grim party of reality’s balance and the extremes that are possible.
July 13, 17-19 (9:30 PM)
Hounds of Love
Metro Cinema, $12