Wednesday, 10 May 2017

HOUNDS OF LOVE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Sickeningly Effective Aussie Thriller Will Shock

Preamble: Between 1990 and 1992, loving Canadian couple Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered three schoolgirls (including Homolka's little sister). Bernardo, on his own, and sometimes in collusion with Homolka serial raped dozens of women. The final numbers of those raped and/or murdered might never be known. Bernardo will be behind bars forever. Homolka struck a grotesque plea-bargain and today walks free. These crimes continue to haunt Canadians. Any such crimes will shake anyone's foundation, but that these acts of evil against women were committed with the willing complicity of a woman in the leafy, seemingly safe suburbs of Canadian cities seems so unthinkable, so appalling that the idea of any dramatization of similar acts seems beyond the pale.

During Bernardo's trial, I personally attended the courthouse on the morning audio tapes were played of Bernardo raping one of the schoolgirls. I staggered out at the official recess and never returned. What I experienced that morning is branded on my brain forever.

Watching Australian filmmaker Ben Young's horrifying thriller Hounds of Love brought it all back. Though Young's film is only loosely based on similar cases in Australia, I could not help but be transported back to the horrible experience of hearing Paul Bernardo calmly barking out orders to his weeping victim. Hounds of Love is, first and foremost, a thriller. No two ways about it - the film's intent is to scare the shit out of us. Was it necessary for Young to make this film? Was it necessary to subject myself to it? Is it necessary for anyone to see it? Read on.

Aussie thriller will resonate chillingly with Canadian audiences aware of schoolgirl killers Bernardo/Homolka. 

Hounds of Love (2017)
Dir. Ben Young
Starring: Emma Booth, Stephen Curry,
Ashleigh Cummings, Susie Porter, Damian De Montemas

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Through the driver's side window of a slow-moving car, teenage girls in school uniforms play volleyball within a caged court. Their movements are so dreamily-measured that one thinks the scene is unfolding in a series of still-life images. Once the car is parked, we catch sight of two steely eyes peering forward in a rearview mirror. From this perspective, we're afforded a series of closeups involving the almost lethargic slow-motion movements of the athletic young girls. All we see are body parts - knees bending, thighs jiggling ever-so slightly, breasts pressing forward under crisp white shirts as hands clutch a volleyball and thrust it forward.

These young women are reduced to faceless objects of desire.

Eventually, we're handed a new perspective. Through the driver's side window of the parked vehicle, we watch as the girls leave the court - some in cars, others on foot, but all in groups. All that is, except for one.

The car starts. The quarry is clear. The hunt is on.

Mayhem will follow.

Hounds of Love marks the feature film debut of Australian writer-director Ben Young and there is no denying that he's crafted a thriller with intelligence, resonance and sheer-DNA-hardwired filmmaking bravura. Inspired by two notable true-life serial killings in the Land Down Under (the "Night Caller" and "Moorhouse" murders), Young's film is set in 1987 amidst the sunny suburbs of Perth in which demented couple Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth, Stephen Curry) stalk, kidnap, torture, rape and murder teenage schoolgirls.

Much like the aforementioned Canuck killers Bernardo and Homolka, the pair use the safety net of being a "normal couple" to dupe teen runaway Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) into their bungalow of horror to have their way with her. John has wifey Evelyn wrapped round his finger and she's a willing participant in these grotesqueries.

Young's screenplay pays special attention to layering the characters - in particular the used/abused wife and her sorrow from losing her two biological children in a custody dispute from a previous marriage and victim Vicki's woes due to her parents' recent break-up. Much of the film is a survival tale in which the teenager uses her wits to get wifey onside by exposing how little hubby John actually cares about her.

I will admit to being more than a little mixed about this subject matter being used to raise hackles. This is clearly something that happened and will continue to happen in real life and though Young handles the proceedings with considerable "taste", it's impossible to watch the film (or even think about it afterwards) without feeling the bile rise.

Still, this is first-rate filmmaking. There are a number of suspense set pieces that will have audiences squirming. The synth-driven score and clever use of period music is especially effective. I guarantee that "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues can NEVER be listened to in the same way EVER AGAIN after the manner in which Young employs it here.

Though I understand why Young has written the harrowing final act to focus upon the whole notion of a mother's love for her child (children), there's something a touch too pat about the Silence of the Lambs nod employed as a key turn in the events. It's not exploitative (at least not in the wrong way), but so much of the film (especially the astonishing performances delivered by the picture's key trio of players) has a sickening ring of truth to it and one can't help but feel that we're left with a denouement that's resorted to the kind of trope that the film goes out of its way to avoid.

Still, the picture is a shocker and directed with the skill of a master. The fetishistic qualities of Young's "eye" conjure up the sort of frissons employed by Master Alfred Hitchcock himself. One can only imagine what terrific pictures Ben Young has in store for us.


Hounds of Love is an ABMO Films presentation that opens May 12, 2017 at:
Toronto – Carlton Cinemas – 20 Carlton St.
Ottawa – Mayfair Theatre – 1074 Bank St.
and May 19, 2017 at:
London – The Hyland Cinema - 240 Wharncliffe Rd.