Second Sight: Hounds of Love & The Humanity of Monsters

The uncomfortable realization that monsters are real is often all that is required to set an audience on edge. Further exploration of the monsters' depravities; that many times transpire within our pristine neighborhoods and austere academies, is one of the most visceral techniques in the genre. While the viewer’s imagination is surely the more horrifying component of the experience, enhancing the macabre with real world parallels has become an essential piece of modern horror filmmaking, despite the fact that the bulk of films produced never attain the needed level of unspeakable symmetry. Ben Young's devious debut, Hounds of Love achieves the unthinkable. Blending a downright vicious trio of performances with a grungy 80's vibe, Young's audacious debut is a harrowing exploration of inhuman abuse and the dynamics of exploitation, both sexual and emotional.

John and Evelyn are a predatory couple who abduct young women for use in their games of sexual violence and murder. Their latest victim, Vicki, realizes that her only chance for survival is to drive a wedge between the psychotic lovers. Young's script sets the action during the late 80's. There is no internet or smart phones, no suppository of knowledge for the protagonist to use to her benefit. During the film's slow paced introduction, an omnipotent observation of teenage girls on a playground, it becomes apparent that Young is interested more in themes of control than gratuitous sex and violence. John and Evelyn; brought to life by Stephen Curry and an unforgettable Emma Booth, are despicable and unhinged, and yet Booth's outstanding performance breeds empathy for her irredeemable villainess as the story slowly coasts towards it's unique conclusion. Atmosphere is everything, and it is the unexpected treatment of the extremely difficult subject matter that showcases Young's inherit understanding of not only the material, but of the audience. Within seconds, the viewer is made to feel uneasy, and yet, the violence and rape that pervade the film's ambiance are always just beyond the viewer's field of vision, lurking in the corner of their eye as they focus not on atrocities of the flesh, but on the darkness of everyday life. 

Michael McDermott's cinematography has a haunted quality that fuses the menace of the captors with the relentless, but resigned survival instincts of Ashleigh Cummings' Vicki. The world around the house at the heart of story is presented in a swath of murky blues and crisp greens, creating a lonely, yet vibrant environment that harmonizes with Hounds' central purpose. Unlike Lynch's Blue Velvet, Young's focus is not on the deception of small town living, but on the profound effects of loss and violation in a world that never stops moving, even with respect to its victims. While Booth's turn as the unsure participant is outstanding, Cummings does so much with the material she is given that not only is the viewer inclined to root for her, they are also inescapably drawn into her victimization to the point of experience by proxy. 

This is a difficult film. While it is surprisingly restrained with respect to physical violence, the unavoidable implications of its subject matter are immediate. The first two acts are especially difficult, both in how Cumming's heroine is subjected to the darkest of her captor's desires and in the film's treatment of the killers themselves. It is a common, and important trope in horror to make the victims into people so that the audience can not only better identify with them, but to also reinforce the emotional impact of their eventual deaths. Young inverts this concept by making the monsters people, complete with trauma, emotions, and heartbreaking reasons for their incorrigible actions. This is the unholy beauty of Hounds. Where Cummings suffers the physical ire of the couple, Booth's Evelyn suffers the emotional durance of being her husband’s concubine of murderous convenience. These are daring themes that will most certainly not call to everyone, but patience rewards with an absolutely unforgettable final act, punctuated by a perfect use of Joy Division's Atmosphere

Available now for digital streaming, Hounds of Love is the kind of film that sticks to the viewer's soul and never relents. Detachment from those with malice in their hearts is easy, almost second nature when it comes to cinema, specifically horror films. Ben Young's outstanding debut feature not only presents an exceptionally well-made thriller, it turns the focus onto not only what makes a person into a monster, but also what shattered dreams they hold in their broken hearts. The truth, remains decidedly with the viewer, as Young thankfully shies away from a conventional summation, forcing the audience to come to their own conclusions about the nature of evil and its place in the civilized world, a question that is inherently more terrifying than any supernatural beast or extraterrestrial interloper.

-Kyle Jonathan