Ben Young’s Hounds of Love is nothing new—rape and torture and murder have all been extensively challenged with horror for decades—so his film, while seemingly familiar, is so viciously told and beautifully shot that it actually feels like a refreshing (and totally twisted take) on the genre even if it isn’t. In it, Vicki is randomly abducted from a suburban street by a disturbed couple. As she observes the dynamic between her captors she quickly realises she must drive a wedge between them if she is to survive.
Young’s film fits in a sort of unique realm of cinema in that it’s undoubtedly exploitive with a real-life nastiness to it that makes it hard to watch—how do you recommend (or even want to watch) a movie entirely about rape and torture and murder? That’s a big hurdle that these types of films often struggle to clear, and it doesn’t help that most of them are terrible and overly fucked up just for the sake of it. That, however, is where Hounds of Love feels different, in that it’s not necessarily trying to be disturbing just for the fun of it; Young actually set out to make a great film with complex characters that he buries in a raw and tangible world.
The thing about Hounds of Love (and other films like it) is that it hits hard for everyone because it shines a gnarly light on the monsters that actually exist—people. People are terrifying, and so Young exposes that with a film that feels all too real. Look, it’s not an easy movie to sit through (why would it be?) but it is a rewarding one for those brave enough to stick with it. And one thing that is important to mention is that it’s not nearly as disturbing as some critics are making it out to be—don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty troubling—but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before and Young does a fantastic job of leaving most of the horror to the imagination.
Its tension is palpable, fueled by a narrative that runs on a haunting sense of desperation and angst; a lot of that comes from its unhinged characters, too. Evelyn and John White are a mysterious and wicked duo—twisted lovers that will make your skin crawl—that abduct a girl (who isn’t their first) and chain her to a bed before putting her through the worst kind of hell. Like I said, this certainly isn’t the feel-good movie of the year. The only real issue I had with them (and the movie in general) is that their motivation for being horrible people is muddy at best—Young tries to piece together their history and what drives them throughout the film, but it just isn’t enough for us to fully understand their characters. As a result of that, I feel like the movie doesn’t have much to say or carry any real message beyond horrible people do horrible things.
If you’re going to put yourself through a movie like this though, it’s crucial to know that your patience is rewarded. The final act is fantastic, an accumulation of slow-crawling tension that hinges on survival and its psycho-fueled characters finally erupts in a crazy final few minutes. And while I think it could have used some serious trimming (it’s about 20 minutes too long and drags pretty hard in the middle), it’s still a mean ass movie that will find a way to shake the skin right off your bones.