Australian serial killer films are consistently grim, harsh, and mean — as serial killer films should be. Unlike their American counterparts, true crime stories from the Land Down Under generally lack any sort of levity, and promise to stick with viewers for quite some time after the credits begin to roll. Ben Young’s Hounds of Love isn’t without its satisfying (and even uplifting moments), but as a whole, it’s yet another Aussie thriller that promises to leave a massive lump in the throats of all who view it.
Based on an appalling true story, the 1980s-set film finds a young college student named Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) being abducted by Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry), a disturbed couple whose idea of love is nothing short of horrific. While Evelyn enables John’s vicious sexual assault of Vicki, the Maloney family begins desperately searching for their daughter. Cutting back and forth between the torture of a young woman and the desperation of her loved ones to bring her home, Young never holds back, creating a film that explores the dark underbelly of what is generally believed to be a civilized society.
If the basic subject matter weren’t upsetting enough on its own, Hounds of Love is absolutely relentless in its depictions of torture. For a majority of the films running time, Vicki tries and fails to escape from the White household, and each attempt results in increasingly atrocious consequences. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to witness, and the surprisingly tasteful manner in which Young approaches these moments makes them even more affecting than if they had been exploitative.
Because even though Hounds of Love certainly isn’t a cheerful motion picture, it’s not mean-spirited in the slightest. The villains are indescribably cruel, but the message of the movie isn’t at all. While Evelyn and John are making Vicki’s life a living hell, her parents and her boyfriend are doing everything they can to find her and make sure that she comes home alive. The dynamic between these two worlds is fascinating, because Hounds of Love is, at its core, a love story. It’s a story of false love, true love, familial love, and the manipulative perception of love that causes many of the world’s problems.
As evil as the antagonists are, they’re not cartoonish. Evelyn and John are the kinds of people that exist in our world; in the universe that you and I occupy. The believability of the two characters makes Hounds of Love both tearjerking and absolutely frightening in a way that only films dealing with abductions seem to be. If you can stomach it, Hounds of Love is without a doubt one of the most must-see films of 2017. It’s not a fun watch, and it definitely isn’t an easy film to get through, but it’s rewarding and feels very important.
This review originally ran in our coverage of SXSW 2017. Hounds of Love hits theaters May 12th.