HOT on the trail of Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Julia Ducournau (Raw), Ben Young is the latest talent to cut his directorial teeth in fine fashion with an inventive and hair-raising horror film.
His debut feature, Hounds of Love, is set to the backdrop of a sweaty (not snowy) Christmas in 1987 Perth, Australia.
Schoolgirl Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is taking her parents’ separation hard and, after a row with her mother (Susie Porter), sneaks out of the house late at night to attend a party.
Dolled up and alone, Vicki makes prime prey for psychopathic couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry), who trawl the suburban streets in search of vulnerable teens.
As the title suggests, these are savage predators. They lure Vicki to their home (and part-time dungeon) before sadistically chaining her to the bed. Bloodied tissues and bent coat hangers littered on the floor act as chilling indicators of what may be in store for the teen.
As signs of friction between Evelyn and John begin to show, Vicki is left in a desperate – and unlikely – race against time to escape her captors’ clutches.
Young has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to hold the viewers interest and, when necessary, crank up the seat-gripping tension. Perhaps the most effective of these is a snail-paced crawling camera paired with slow motion.
The film opens on this note, as we see lingering, sexualised close-ups of schoolgirls playing netball (later on we will see close-ups of Vicki’s terrified and tortured eyes). Young then reveals we are watching through the creepy voyeurist eyes of the psychopathic couple laying in wait.
It’s an unsettling sequence which sets the tone for the cold-blooded action still to come.
When we move into the horror house, Young utilises the tight layout and open doors to show there’s no room to hide. We are often left watching Vicki from one room to another, just out of our reach, only adding to the hopelessness of her situation.
This layout also allows the camera to slowly drift around, at times stretching out the suspense to great effect.
All of this tension is underlined by Dan Luscombe’s eerie and pulsing 80’s synth score. Likewise, the soothing sounds of Cat Stevens’ Lady D’Arbanville and The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin cannot escape the disturbing context given to them.
With a captivating central performance from Booth that delves into issues of cyclical abuse, Hounds of Love has depth beyond its surface scares.
For that, Young deserves acclaim alongside Peele and Ducournau. Hounds of Love is a brilliant showcase of the horror genre. Clever and impactful.
One for the hounds of cinema to dig their claws into – and feel sated.
Hounds of Love is out in cinemas on July 28
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Also read: Q&A with Raw director Julia Ducournau
Hounds of Love – 4/5
Dire and Scre: Ben Young
Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damien de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson
Music: Dan Luscombe
Cinematography: Michael McDermott