“There’s someone out there for everyone,” is a thought one might consider while watching impassioned, sadistic lovers Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry) take part hand-in-hand in the abduction and murder of young women. Evelyn even performs fallatio on John while their captee, Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is chained to their bed and looks on in abject horror at the lust they derive from their own deviance. But it’s a sentiment much easier found not just unstable, but even untrue, as their relationship is revealed to be more like a
Stockholm Syndrome-esque hostage situation all on its own, one that mirrors the relationship they have with their own captors; one that forced Evelyn to stray from her own children as she chose John’s perceived love for her over them.
Australian director Ben Young’s feature debut Hounds of Love is not simply an exploitation-level abduction horror. It is a disturbing study in the complexities of not only manipulation and abuse, but of motherhood, separation, and what’s right for the good of children; of the different forms that being a hostage can take, and the empathy that’s required to break free from the cycle.
Vicki Maloney, a high school student in Perth, Australia, has been going through her own personal torment. She’s struggled with the recent separation of her mother, Maggie, (Susie Porter) from her father, Trevor, (Damian De Montemas) and has been sliding backwards further in her schooling. Vicki resents her mother tremendously, and views her as having left Vicki for her own personal gain, with no regard to her wellbeing and in pursuit of a happiness that does not include Vicki in it. Maggie lives in a seedy neighborhood in a real fixer-upper of a house,
and one night, while staying there reluctantly for one of the mandatory two nights a week of custody, Vicki ignores her mother’s refusal to let her go to a party due to her falling grades. It is this very act of rebellion that lands Vicki into the welcoming hands of Evelyn and John White.
Under the tantalizing promise of drugs, Evelyn and John pick Vicki up while she walks alone at night to the nearest highway in search of a taxi. Though wary at first, it’s the image of a child’s car seat in the back that ultimately puts Vicki at ease, before she decides to get in and let them take her to their house. And the couple do follow through on their promise to give Vicki drugs when they arrive – it’s just that they’re in the form of a roofied drink, before dragging Vicki kicking and screaming and chaining her to a bed.
As Evelyn and John’s hostage, Vicki begins to glean bits and pieces regarding the shaky foundation that their fierce, fiery romance is built on. The couple have known each other since they were young teens, but Evelyn has two children with another man whom Evelyn is barred from ever seeing (presumably due to her relationship with John). Vicki understands that as violent and unforgiving as Evelyn may be, much of her personality has been carved out by her manipulative relationship with John, who is constantly assuring her he loves her more than anything in the world during her most potent moments of doubt. Yet all John does and continues to do is gaslight and mistreat Evelyn by way of her undying devotion to him, and the cycle starts over again and again. Vicki trying to use that hushed voice in the back of Evelyn’s mind that John might actually be horrible for her, before John’s claws stick themselves back firmly into Evelyn’s aching heart and return her to his grasp.
At the same time are the striking parallels of motherhood running between Evelyn and Maggie; two mothers who made choices for themselves that left their children behind in the lurch. This idea of what denotes a mother who left a relationship for the betterment of not only herself, but of her own child as well. It is clear that Maggie knows her and Vicki’s happiness are not separate, but indelibly intertwined. Maggie left Trevor in an act that was both selfish but altruistic as well; being in a relationship that was making her unhappy would ultimately make Vicki unhappy, possibly giving her unhealthy expectations of how a marriage should be. And yes, one could simply say Evelyn did leave her children to be with a serial killer; but more than that, it was an act almost entirely selfish, the type of act Vicki unjustly views her mother as having committed. Evelyn chose to be with a person who put her children in harm’s way, and this idea that she can still get them back while still being with him shows that she fundamentally doesn’t understand the wrongness of her own actions.
Hounds of Love is a film of unadulterated brutality – ruthless and unflinching, with scenes that will mark themselves in your mind as you question whether they breach some level of ethics, making you shudder in your seat or look away entirely. Its audacity to put you close to the killers affords itself a level of much-needed empathy, and makes it that much scarier to watch as you yearn for Vicki’s escape. The camerawork is emotional but indifferent at the same time, never letting you closer to Vicki’s life than to Evelyn and John’s, always on the same playing field as one another other as a means to see the ways in which they run parallel. But there is still a lightness that exists in the film, an ever-present kind of love beyond toxicity and abuse, and there’s a power that it holds that is stronger than John’s cruelty. (It should also definitely be noted that Emma Booth, who plays Vicki, has a shriek to challenge Ashleigh Cummings’.)
Hounds of Love is not a film for the faint of heart, but it is an affecting portrayal of vicious, toxic love, the effects it has on those its ensnared and the way its prisoners must fight to free themselves of it. There is certainly someone out there for everyone, as Evelyn and John White seemed to prove at the start. But sometimes the only way to survive is to escape them.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs