Director: Ben Young
Writer: Ben Young
Producer: Melissa Kelly
Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damian de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson
A captive teenager fights to free herself from the troubled husband and wife who abducted her.
Truly, I cannot conceive of a real-life horror more chilling than abduction followed by hopeless captivity. Consider the case of Colleen Stan, certainly an inspiration for the fictional story in “Hounds of Love.” Kidnapped at age 20 by a married couple, Stan was held as a sex slave for seven years, spending as much as 23 hours a day in a box underneath a bed for three consecutive years. Stan’s psyche was broken so badly through brainwashing that, like Elizabeth Smart after her, she eventually submitted to her situation and ignored open opportunities for escape.
Or there is the house of horrors operated by Ariel Castro in Cleveland. Over an 11-year period, Castro subjected three young women to repeated assaults with neighbors none the wiser.
Not all victims in similar circumstances are randomly selected targets. Few can forget Josef Fritzl, who kept his daughter and the children he forcibly fathered concealed in a basement corridor behind eight locked doors. Meanwhile, Fritzl and his wife went about an unassuming life of their own upstairs.
Making such stories more frightening is that fact that these are just ones we know about, and at least they end in the victim’s release and the culprit’s capture. As of December 2016, the National Crime Information Center maintains over 88,000 active missing person records, and that is only the United States. How many of these people are currently undergoing unthinkable ordeals in soundproofed cellars, with no one having any idea where they are or how to find them?
“Hounds of Love” peers into the shadows shrouding one such situation for a harrowing examination of a victim’s survivor spirit being dismantled while the bond between her captors unravels. Writer/director Ben Young’s unflinching feature debut succumbs to an occasional spell of cinematic sensationalism. But the movie otherwise excels as a precisely plotted character study set in a next-door neighbor nightmare guaranteed to turn knuckles white with excruciating intensity.
As Evelyn, one half of the married pair responsible for the chains on Vicki’s wrists, puts it later, if Vicki had only listened to her mother and not sneaked out of the house, none of this would have happened. Instead, an attitude rattled by her parents’ separation as well as mom’s justified grounding primed Vicki to fall for a ruse resulting in abduction.
Now Vicki is held prisoner in a small house not far from her mother’s home. It may as well be the middle of nowhere though, because no one knows where she is.
Evelyn’s husband John has unspeakable plans in store, just as he did for the now dead schoolgirl who previously occupied Vicki’s bed. Evelyn is in a psychological prison of her own, preoccupied with desperation for retrieving her state-removed children while remaining fearfully subservient to John. Vicki quickly clues into this disparity in the couple’s dynamic. Widening that chasm might be the key to escape, provided Vicki can struggle through the suffering and make it out unbroken.
“Hounds of Love” hits so close to home with its practically “ripped from the headlines” premise that it is an undeniably uncomfortable watch. However, that discomfort is purposeful. “Hounds of Love” fearlessly prods the psychological pain of a tormented captive, a conflicted accomplice, and a shattered parent frantically fighting to find any route back to normalcy.
But Ben Young is cautious about how this material is handled. Sights are set on suspense, not tabloid theatrics of violent fantasy. Assaults are implied rather than graphically illustrated, although tension stays so tight, it feels like you see more than the movie actually shows.
A few minutes of fat hiccup here and there. The tumultuous marriage drama between Vicki’s parents is essential for shaping her understanding of unbalanced relationships. But a solo scene of those two parents dancing around possible reconciliation is a speed bump to Vicki’s core story.
Even though it pulls off the trick, a “Silence of the Lambs” switcheroo stinks of being a too convenient timing device. A couple of overly dramatic beats, some made more so by the addition of slow motion, could also stand to swell half as much.
Minor moments of misdirected or emphasized melodrama bounce off the film’s fierceness, however. “Hounds of Love” has a stark vibe of sinister suburban secrets laid bare rarely seen since “Last House on the Left.” These people and their plights feel authentic. And daring to stare into their downward spirals with unafraid eyes creates a terrifyingly tense experience of frighteningly realistic horror.
Review Score: 80