By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 12, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Well, that was unpleasant.
A stylish, squirm-inducing thriller from Australian first-timer Ben Young, Hounds of Love stars Ashleigh Cummings as Vicki Maloney, a rebellious teenager abducted from the suburbs by a couple of Mickey and Mallory-style sickos. Young shows us the sick endgame of these slimy abductors (capture, cage, rape, kill, bury) in the opening scenes. Therefore, we know exactly the wringer that awaits Vicki, a revelation that only adds to the eventual icky horror.
Set in Perth 1987, perhaps as a nod to the Ozploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps as a pointless nostalgic indulgence, the film is gripping but stomach-turning, “effective” in largely the worst possible ways. The bulk of the film involves the evolving relationship between Vicki and her female captor, a deeply damaged woman turned murder spree accessory by a master manipulator, and Vicki’s attempts to drive the two apart.
That character dynamic is fitfully interesting, and Cummings makes for a strong scream queen. However, it mostly feels like Young is working out ways to make rape and torture seem badass and suspenseful, which I found extremely grating and gross. Young’s most recent directing credit comes from a 2012 Australian reality show called Prank Patrol, so mystery solved, maybe?