As Dale Kerrigan in the iconic Australian comedy The Castle, Stephen Curry famously dug a hole. Twenty years later, in Hounds of Love, he's splashing blood around, kidnapping young women, and just generally digging his character into trouble. Curry has popped up in everything from Neighbours and The Wog Boy to The Cup and Save Your Legs! in the years since his breakout role, but you've never seem him quite like this. His utterly against-type turn is just one of the factors than ensures this serial killer thriller makes for extremely jolting viewing.
Set in Perth during the sultry summer of December 1987, and inspired by real-life crimes in the area at the time, Hounds of Love steps inside the turbulent marriage of John and Evelyn White (Curry and Emma Booth), a couple that likes to lure teenagers into their car and house. There's no mistaking John's sinister motives, or that Evelyn is not quite as willing a participant as she pretends. When they pick up 17-year-old Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) as she's sneaking out of her freshly divorced mother's home one evening, their new captive is quick to spot the imbalance at the heart of their relationship. Exploiting that rocky dynamic will prove crucial for the young woman after she's drugged, chained to a bed and forced to fight for her life.
While Curry turns in an astonishing performance that no one will forget in a hurry, this isn't a one-man show. Booth and Cummings are even more commanding and revelatory as two women immersed in a hellish domestic nightmare not of their own making – one equally fragile and determined, the other an enterprising survivor. Together, the actresses help illustrate the film's real thematic focus.
Indeed, first-time writer-director Ben Young isn't merely concerned with the sociopathic underside of a seemingly ordinary-looking man; many a movie has been there and done that before. Hounds of Love still features a few predictable twists and turns, but at its heart the film is a deeply unsettling exploration of the way that men dominate and victimise women — be it their long-term partner or a fresh-faced stranger. Violent deeds fill the movie's frames, some seen and others only hinted at. But it's the savage psychological damage brutally inflicted on Evelyn and Vicki that ultimately has the strongest impact.
Of course they're not the only ones left feeling uncomfortable, and that's putting things mildly. Dread and unease seeps through the film, with Young setting out to evoke the same kind of distress in the audience. If Snowtown tested your mettle, consider yourself warned. It's a handy reference point. Like Justin Kurzel's first feature, Hounds of Love is a highly unsettling debut that heralds the emergence of a promising new Aussie filmmaking talent.