For all its earnest intensity, “Hounds of Love” has remarkably boring stretches. I was puzzled by those moments because everything on-screen was important and often ruthless, but a lot of it felt superficial. First time director Ben Young struggles to find a balance between being stylish and having style. There’s a fine line between those two things. Having style implies depth, an emotional layer beneath the cinematography that elevates the whole movie. Being stylish is looking pretty. “Hounds of Love” has moments of style, but doesn’t move beyond just being stylish.
Stephen Curry as the vitriolic John and Emma Booth, the strongest of the cast, as his wife Evelyn will have you convinced you’re watching a better movie. Including Ashleigh Cummings Vicki, they certainly deserve some weightier material. That’s not to say “Hounds of Love” isn’t worth digging into. Young just struggles to find meaning in its story or characters, opting instead to surround them with slow-motion montages scored with 80’s pop. Young packs a lot of striking images into this little tale, but a lot of it isn’t necessary and bogs down the tenser scenes.
The effect is inconsistent. In more capable hands, each of those sequences would say something new or interesting rather than passing by. Young’s sequences just pass by, feeling dreamlike while their on-screen but offering little else after they go. At points, enduring the movie’s frequent brutality, the self-conscious long pans feel like they belong in a different movie altogether. Free of those moments, “Hounds of Love” could easily fall under 90 minutes and be a more lean thriller.
The plot calls for a more raw and intimate style. Vicki is a rebellious teen, daughter of recently divorced parents, and sneaks out one night against her mother Maggie’s (Susie Porter) wishes. On her way, she’s stopped by Evelyn and John, offering her a ride. Vicki reluctantly accepts, stopping by their house on the way only to be drugged and chained to a bed. Desperate to escape, Vicki figures out her captors’ dynamic in all its darkness and abuse. She decides to take advantage of the rift between them if it means her freedom.
“Hounds of Love” closest relative has got to be “The Snowtown Murders,” a much more effective horror movie about family dynamics and abuse. It has the same ponderous tone with more guts and depth. “Hounds of Love” has that same creepy, slow-to-unravel imagery without the emotional underpinnings to make it feel important. It’s anchored with an exceptional cast, Porter and Booth especially, but struggles to float on its own. If anything, Young should pull back, less transition shots, more action. For as fast as the story itself moves, the movie lags behind, comfortable with catching up when the important stuff has passed.