In his debut feature, Hounds of Love, Ben Young stirs uneasiness from the opening sequence. A slow-motion pan across what looks like a pleasant portrait of suburban adolescence quickly becomes corrupted, the lens seeming to leer, the shot lingering too attentively on the body parts of teenage girls. But this is not Young's own male gaze, and he makes that clear by taking us out of the close-up to the eyes of those actually watching: John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), a serial-killer couple in 1980s Perth, Australia, who stalk, torture and murder girls. The story focuses on the abduction of Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), who finds the wrong ride on the way to a party after a fight with her recently divorced mother. When approached by the killers, Vicki hesitates, but the ruse is too good, and the presence of a woman eases her wariness. She falls right into their trap.
While Vicki's screams are unnerving enough to spawn nightmares, Young spares us both the exploitations of torture-porn cinema and the formulaic nature of a procedural — the police are in fact almost in denial that such menace lies beneath the hazy idyll of Perth, which is captured in effectively stark contrast.
Hounds may be predictable in plot, but it succeeds in making a psychological web of this troubled threesome. Chained to a bed, Vicki quickly catches on to John and Evelyn's unstable dynamic and realizes she's not the only victim in the house. Watching Booth's Evelyn teeter between the roles of the sadistic abuser and the abused woman with maternal instincts is the real thrill here.