In Dan Gilroy’s (“The Bourne Legacy”) “Nightcrawler,” Nina (Rene Russo, “Get Shorty”) announces that her TV station’s ideal stories are of “urban crime creeping into the suburbs,” which, in some ways, sums up the feeling behind Ben Young’s (“Something Fishy”) “Hounds of Love.” Emma Booth (“Introducing the Dwights”) stars as the tortured and sadistic Evelyn White, who captures Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings, “Galore”) to torture and rape in tandem with her husband John (Stephen Curry, “The King”). “Hounds of Love” shares many similarities with “Nightcrawler,” namely a coastal city setting, a sociopath (or two!) and plenty of drama.
Despite its intensity, the film never rushes itself, which is established by the opening shot. From the parking lot where Evelyn and John are parked, the camera pans across teenage schoolgirls playing on the blacktop. The shots are lurid and perverse, and by the time the camera turns back to the scrutinizing eyes of the devilish couple, there’s the droning hum of tension. When the girls leave, Evelyn and John lure one into their car. The next glance of her is from over the blue tarp in the trunk, as John buries a shallow grave in a thicket of pines. The camera snaps back to Evelyn at home, chewing on her lip, almost guilty behind her vacant eyes.
Vicki is the next victim, who sneaks out of the house to attend a party after a fight with her recently divorced mother. With the promise of cheap, quality weed, Evelyn lures Vicki back to their house, where she is drugged into a state of semi-consciousness, then locked in chains to a bedframe. She writhes and shrieks, as Evelyn tops John off in celebration, to the sound of a teenager’s wails. It’s a profoundly upsetting and depraved scene.
However, this domestic hell is not locked tight. Vicki quickly notices that Evelyn is turbulent, and unsure of John’s commitment to her. She has two children from a previous marriage that she is hoping to bring to her home with John, but John isn’t supportive, and uses it as a point of manipulation. While never delineated, Evelyn and Vicki’s relationship is the most interesting part of the narrative — as a mother herself, Evelyn is troubled by her own actions and complicity, but as a lover, she is completely and totally convinced that she needs John to survive. The results of Vicki’s attempts to pry Evelyn out from the clutches of the sleazy, mistrusting John are varied, and that drives the suspense of the narrative. With each broken lock, hidden message, or manipulative measure, there’s no assurance of a reward. The battle within the Whites’ house is between three people, not two parties.
In each character, there is a fire begging to be unleashed that is offset by Young’s direction. He allows scenes to plod along, intentional and steady, to their ends. Cummings, Booth and Curry walk themselves to the very edge of composure before breaking it in explosive, cathartic release. The characters are rubber bands, pulled to the point before they snap. It should come as no surprise that “Hounds of Love” is not an easy film to watch — a few left the theatre during its showing — but its sheer intensity and energy are captivating if you can stomach emotional and physical abuse.