Hounds of Love is a highly traumatic modern horror. Based on a true series of events in Perth, Australia in 1986/1987, it is doubly disturbing because the serial killers that the film centres upon are a married couple. Its one thing for a film’s sick bastard/killer/rapist to be a man, but another for a woman to being aiding and abetting and even joining in on the awful depravations that ensue. Somehow it feels doubly wrong, doubly abhorrent, and while the film does seem to try to rationalise what makes the wife, Evelyn White (a standout performance by Emma Booth) such a subversive accomplice, it is nonetheless guaranteed to leave a sour taste in your mouth. Indeed, this is one of those few horror films -alongside stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre– that really lingers in your head afterwards, horrifying not for being particularly graphic in this case (Hounds of Love is far more restrained than Massacre or other ‘torture porn’ horrors, etc) but rather for offering an awful glimpse of the grim filthy underbelly of modern suburbia.
I’d even go so far to say that the genius -if it is genius- of this film is that very restraint, because the worst things that happen do so behind closed doors, and it is the viewers imagination, triggered by the sounds of screams etc and visual clues that preempt the sequences (a box and its contents is glimpsed, as are the blood-sodden aftermaths of earlier events) that does the most disturbing work. What is suggested in horror films is most often far more effective than graphic display.
The film is also a very intriguing study of domination and a need to belong, to be loved and have purpose (if I’m ‘reading’ it right). John White (Stephen Curry) is bullied by neighbourhood thugs who he owes money to- his sense of powerlessness and weakness in that situation seems to be externalised by his emotional and physical bullying of his wife Evelyn. Evelyn is coming off some kind of dysfunctional relationship in which she lost her two children, and feels ‘saved’ by John and utterly dependant on him, so much so that she facilitates his grisly desires for kidnapping and raping/torturing/killing teenage girls. I don’t think for one minute that the film ever really suggests we should try to empathise or sympathise with these two sick killers, but it does offer some kind of nuance to what could quite easily be a straight slasher/exploitation flick. There’s much more going on here. In any case, this is certainly a superior horror film.
One point I must make- the dog.
Don’t mess with the dog, man. Thats where I draw the line. I’ll watch many things in film and forgive pretty much anything, but violence to dogs, even if it is offscreen and suggested? Well, that’s just too far and has to be punished. I don’t care who a character is, what they done, what they reasons were, they got it coming if only for canine mistreatment. Thankfully, the shit who crosses the line here gets his just comeuppance. Otherwise this film would be relegated to the ‘never again’ list, like Tyrannosaur.
Anyway, just thought I’d get that out of the way. Torture porn is one thing, but hurting a dog? Get out of here.