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Don’t Talk to Strangers

Hounds of Love

by George Wolf

Driven by a fiercely invested and touchingly deranged performance from Emma Booth, Hounds of Love makes a subtle shift from horrific torture tale to psychological character study. In 108 grueling minutes, writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut marks him as a filmmaker with confident vision and exciting potential.

It is the late 1980s in Perth, Australia, and at least one young girl has already gone missing when the grounded Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out her bedroom window to attend a party. This isn’t nearly as dumb a move as is accepting a ride from Evie White (Booth) and her husband John (Stephen Curry).

As the couple dance seductively and drink to celebrate,¬†Young disturbingly conveys the weight of Vicki’s panicked realization that she is now their captive. It is just one in a series of moments where Young flexes impressive chops for visual storytelling, utilizing slo-motion, freeze frame, patient panning shots and carefully chosen soundtrack music to set the mood and advance the dreadful narrative without a spoken word.

And then, just when you might suspect his film to wallow in the grisly nature of the Whites’ plan for Vicki, Young turns to dialog sharp enough to upend your expectations, and three vivid characters are crafted in the suffocating dread of the White’s neighborhood home.

Slowly, Vicki realizes her best hope may be outsmarting the insecure Evie, and, much like Catherine Martin tempting Precious away from Jame Gumb, Vicki sets her sights on driving a wedge between her captors.

The three leads, all impressively committed, find the layers necessary to make the terror resonate more deeply than your standard dose of human cruelty. No slight to either Cummings of Curry, but the film turns on how Booth consistently finds the edges of Vicki’s psychotic worldview to make her the biggest wild card in this horror show.

No doubt, events get brutal, but never without reminders that Young is a craftsman. Subtle additions, such as airplanes flying freely overhead to contrast with Vicki’s captivity, give Hounds of Love a steady¬†dose of smarts, even as it’s shaking your core.