What is it about Australian filmmakers and down-and-dirty, no-holds-barred crime dramas? This is a fearsomely accomplished first feature: a kidnapping thriller that never gets too far from the action (even though you’ll want to be). It opens with an ominous montage of slo-mo camerawork ogling the bodies of high school cheerleaders, crosscut with the moist lips and eyes of a couple spying from a parked car. Elsewhere, bad sex is happening in trashy brick-walled apartments while the sun-bleached neighbourhood outside seems to invite a catastrophe.
‘Hounds of Love’ takes as partial inspiration two real-life killing sprees that still haunt the western city of Perth. Director Ben Young’s universe is a carefully recreated 1986, during which the so-called ‘Moorhouse murders’ – perpetrated by a married couple – transpired. Our heroine is frizzy-haired Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), who has a habit of sneaking out of home after dark to buy pot from strangers. But it’s the film’s central pair of monsters, Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry, both extraordinary), who capture our dark imaginations. We know what’s coming long before they lure Vicki to their den to get high.
When the chains come out, ‘Hounds of Love’ becomes a sweat-drenched exercise in psychological warfare, as Vicki tries to pit Evelyn’s apparent neediness against John’s brutish mood swings. Young’s facility with these scenes – as well as with the desperate search underway – launches his movie into the company of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Even if it ends a touch abruptly, this one seeps into your clothes.