Hounds of Love: Devastating Australian horror thriller takes an unflinching look at a very sick relationship
In Canada, we have tied to our recent history — unfortunately — an oozing, open sore of a story, a true crime tale that shocked not only our country, but the world. I’m speaking about serial rapist/murderer Paul Bernardo and his bride/accomplice Karla Homolka. I wish I wasn’t speaking about them. But I was sadly reminded of their wave of very real sexually-stepped horror while watching writer/director Ben Young’s unshakable and instantly controversial (there were walk-outs during Venice and SXSW screenings, especially from dog lovers) shocker Hounds of Love, a movie that is also based on facts Young gleaned from studying real-life sex killers.
In the case of the unfortunate Bernardo, the young handsome “boy next door” maintained a reportedly twisted, volatile sexual relationship with his wife, who enabled his every perverted whim. By night, Bernardo would prowl the Toronto streets and the peripheral areas and sexually assault women, dozens and dozens of women, his reign of terror earning him the handle “The Scarborough Rapist.” With the help and participation of his wife, he even drugged and raped Homolka’s teenage sister, an act of sexual assault that led to the girl’s death. Getting a taste for more transgressive acts, the pair ended up stalking and kidnapping schoolgirls, keeping them prisoner, repeatedly raping and humiliating them before killing, dismembering them and dumping their bodies.
The pair were caught but, due to a sickening “deal” made, Homolka claimed she was a “victim” of her controlling husband and was sentenced to minimal time, wherein she received a university education. Bernardo is serving life in prison. Homolka is now free and married with children. Chew on that.
Hounds of Love (no relation to the pretty Kate Bush album/song) charts a similar, revolting sexual/homicidal co-dependent relationship in its tale of Perth-based husband and wife killers John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) who kidnap, sexually share and slaughter teenage girls as part of their broken, sick union. But after the pair drug and chain up the sweet, sophisticated Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), the dynamic changes. Evelyn starts getting nervous. John is paying a bit too much attention to this new girl. He starts cutting Evelyn off from their usual shared sex crimes and Evelyn begins to feel her control of the situation slipping. What follows is a totally perverse love triangle of sorts, a satanic domestic tale that is raw and unyieldingly dark and emotionally and viscerally punishing.
But while the subject matter in Hounds of Love is upsetting and the sexual violence is difficult to watch, this is no mere exploitation film. Rather it’s a stylish, expertly-produced, sharply-directed and intelligently written chamber drama and one armed with a punishing sound design (there is a scream on the soundtrack behind a closed door that cut into my bones). It doesn’t just revel in the grim nature of sex crimes, it peels back layers like an evil onion, revealing the psychology of dangerously co-dependent, toxic love and how it can make one blind and slowly, surely strip humanity away if left unchecked. Both John and Evelyn are victims of life in a sense. Of poverty. Of ignorance. Of abuse. These are man-made monsters living on the fringe who are parasitically entwined, gnawing at each other like cancer and dragging innocents into their sinking, stinking cesspool. The performances are blistering, the pitch is fevered and the movies naturalism and focus on character provoke genuine horror. Because, as we know with people like Bernardo and Homolka, these self-cannibalizing predators walk among us. Everywhere. They wait. Watching. Ready to spread their “disease” to their carefully-curated victims. They are dogs. Hounds…
Not for all tastes (would you want to see a horror movie that was?), Hounds of Love is a thinking person’s psycho-thriller, one that I know I’ll likely not be able to shake for some time. Nice use of Joy Division too…
Hounds of Love opens on May 12th in select North American theaters as well as on iTunes and VOD. Visit the official site for more information.