In frozen moments of time the young girls of the high school volleyball team practice in the afternoon sun, their toned and tanned legs and arms shown off in short skirts and white blouses, forbidden perfection out of reach beyond the tall chain link fence; anything can change in a second.
It’s the blazing hot summer of December 1987 in Perth on the western coast of Australia, the last few days before Christmas, and Vicki Maloney has no reason to look forward to the holidays, bounced between her recently separated parents and grudgingly staying with her mother Maggie twice a week in the dead-end neighbourhood she has just moved to.
Relishing her new independence and proudly refusing any assistance from soon-to-be-ex-husband Trevor despite her modest means, Maggie sees through Vicki, knowing her daughter faked her homework with the help of her boyfriend and grounding her on the night of the big party, but as stubborn as her mother Vicki sneaks out anyway, accepting a lift from a couple with just a quick detour to their house on the way.
The debut feature of writer/director Ben Young screened as the closing film of the 2017 Glasgow Film Festival FrightFest strand, Hounds of Love is a tense thriller carried by the raw performances of the three leads, Ashleigh Cummings as Vicki and Stephen Curry and Emma Booth as John and Evelyn White, the manipulative and terrifying couple who as a pair hunt the streets for young girls.
The presence of a woman offering reassurance to their intended victims who would balk at getting into a car with just a man driving, Vicki at first believes she is being held for ransom but as the truth of her situation becomes apparent she realises in order to survive and escape she must turn her captors against each other, attempting to fracture their already dysfunctional relationship.
The desperation rising off the bleached streets and the rough brick walls of the houses of the dead-end neighbourhood like the heat of the unforgiving sun, Booth manages to evoke a surprising amount of sympathy for Evelyn, an emotional train-wreck derailed by a series of abusive relationships whose only means of communication is repeating the torment she has endured.
Best known as a comedian in his homeland, Curry is given the task of creating the monster that is John, his every action motivated by self-gratification or self-preservation, but nor does father Trevor paint himself in a good light, using the disappearance of his daughter as leverage to press his wife to come back to him.
Less deliberately bloody than Wolf Creek and never developing significantly beyond the quickly established premise despite the near-two hour runtime, Hounds of Love is equally brutal in its own way with the unflinching intimacy of three people trapped in close quarters and unable to escape the horror they have created in this harsh land of huge open spaces and sparse population where it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility to simply lose someone without trace.
Hounds of Love is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Films from 29th January