Thursday, May 18, 2017
HOUNDS OF LOVE
Ian Brady, a very bad man, has died. Though his name doesn't mean much to Americans, the Brits certainly knew about him. He and his girlfriend Myra Hindley committed some terrible murders in the 1960s - their crimes involved the killing of five children, ages 10 to 17 - and they were as nationally reviled in Britain as any number of murderers you can name in America, perhaps more so. I've always suspected a small part of England's disdain for Brady and Hindley had to do with their looks - he was a ferret-faced git with sleepy eyes, she was a bottle blond with a jaw shaped like a shovel. Their mugshots howled degeneracy. She died in 2002. He died this week, just as Hounds of Love, an Australian picture about a couple similar to Brady and Hindley, was opening at my local art cinema. To my surprise, the tiny screening room was nearly half full on a sunny weekday in May. This had less to do, I imagine, with any advance word, and was more because people are fascinated by sex and violence. It sold newspapers in Brady's day, and it can sell some movie tickets now.
It isn't a horror movie, per se, any more than Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a horror movie, though some of it is horrifying. It's a suspense thriller, really. It's about a married couple that abducts teen girls to torture, rape and kill. It could've been served up like The Last House on the Left, but writer/director Ben Young was aiming for something more. Hence, John, the husband (Stephen Curry) is shown as a bit of a weasel in the outside world, a schlep who owes money to some local thugs. Evelyn (Emma Booth) is his wife, a long suffering mom whose previous husband is keeping her separated from her own kids. She weeps a lot, and seems to live in fear of John, but she's also a bit psycho when she needs to be. Early on the pair lures teen Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) into their home with promises of good weed. (This, of course, is proof that marijuana leads to worse stuff!)
Vicki ends up drugged, and as "Knights in White Satin" plays on the stereo (the movie is set in the '80s, for some reason) she's dragged into the couple's spare room and chained to a bed. Then we watch her pissing and shitting herself, as well as being strangled, threatened with a knife, and slapped around. Vicki is resourceful - she tries to find Evelyn's weak spots in hopes of creating an ally against John. Meanwhile, John skulks around the house, being abusive and mean and kicking the dog. Mostly, there's a lot of crying and screaming. We also get a lot of Vicki's mother (Susie Porter), who cries and screams, too. The mother, a tough single mom - is there any other kind in the movies? - receives a sort of ransom note written by Vicki and from it deduces where the girl is being held. Then there's more screaming and crying, as if Young thinks this will elevate the movie above its sleazy pedigree.
Young tries hard. He uses a lot of super slow motion, sometimes to great effect, but after a while it feels silly. Directors who use slow-mo are kind of like guys with weak chins who grow beards. They're not fooling anybody. Emma Booth, though, is quite good as Evelyn, snarling like Charlize Theron in Monster. She's also very moving in scenes where she's being told that she can't see her children, and when she's pleading with John to be kind to her. She does what she can with the part, and makes the movie watchable all by her self. Stephen Curry, too, is creepy and interesting as John. Ashleigh Cummings spends most of her time handcuffed to a bed, but she's quite remarkable in a scene where she's eyeball to eyeball with Booth, unable to speak, with a knife to her throat. It's a riveting moment in an otherwise forgettable movie. Hounds of Love wants so desperately to be appreciated as some sort of thinking person's sleazefest that it steps on its own foot. Perhaps it seemed like an interesting idea to portray psychopaths as being human, to show their tears, but it short circuits the story. There's no doubt that some truly despicable people can demonstrate a human side. I'm also sure Ian Brady would dismiss this movie as fluff.