REVIEW: Hounds of Love

12 05 2017

The words of Roger Ebert often rattle around in my head when thinking about how to process a movie – especially during ones that don’t seem to register with me. (Better than tuning them out entirely.) I keep coming back to the way he wrote about Robert Bresson, the great French director who made films of intensely repressed emotions. In an obituary for Bresson, Ebert wrote:

“He shunned displays of emotions in his work, rehearsing and shooting a scene over and over, until the actors seemed to be going through the motions without thought. Oddly, this style created films of great passion: Because the actors didn’t act out the emotions, the audience could internalize them.”

When movies make feel nothing, and I sense that’s the point, I force myself to wonder if the filmmaker is pulling a kind of Bressonian perverse inversion of emotion. By distancing us from our feelings, are we forced to examine them all the more? This was the big question for me during Ben Young’s “Hounds of Love,” a fictional depiction of a real-life crime story in 1980s Australia.

The film centers on a teenage girl’s abduction by a depraved couple; when they officially make Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) their captive, Young films the imprisonment an extreme long shot of a door frame within the frame. It’s the kind of shot meant to intentionally create a remove from the action, drawing attention to the cinematic qualities of the moment and asking us to react in kind. Instead of plugging into our fear and terror, it simply suggests such emotions.

Yet far too often in “Hounds of Love,” this kind of effect suggests ambivalence rather than ambiguity. It’s not a film of submerged emotion – heck, the kidnapper Evelyn (Emma Booth) goes from flogging her victim to fellating her co-conspirator John (Stephen Curry) with a minute! It’s a film of someone who’s studied lots of films with submerged emotion, which admittedly is understandable given that “Hounds of Love” marks Young’s debut feature. His strength lies in understanding of the power of slow-motion camerawork. He uses it to suspend motion and grab our attention in a fast-moving world, morphing the familiar activities of life into something strange, horrifying and oddly beautiful. C

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