Ben Young’s chill­ing Hounds of Love is based on two real-life subur­ban se­rial killers, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Ben Young’s strik­ing de­but fea­ture, Hounds of Love, is a tale of toxic com­plic­ity turned back on it­self. Set in 1980s Perth, the film is the story of a subur­ban cou­ple, John and Eve­lyn (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), whose re­la­tion­ship is ce­mented by kid­nap­ping and even­tu­ally killing teenage girls. The film fo­cuses on the fate of their new vic­tim, Vicki (Ash­leigh Cum­mings) and her strug­gle to sur­vive.

The open­ing of Hounds of Love sets the scene in more ways than one: it shows teenage girls play­ing net­ball, shot from the point of view of an ob­server in a car and de­picted in a kind of dreamy ex­treme slow-mo­tion, with the cam­era lin­ger­ing on limbs. Young’s script be­gan with this scene, but the way it was shot hap­pened al­most by chance, he says.

“I was work­ing with a fan­tas­tic cin­e­matog­ra­pher, Michael McDer­mott, who is a dear friend and shot tonnes of mu­sic videos and com­mer­cials with me, and he’d just hap­pened to buy a high-speed cam­era, the kind you need to shoot ul­tra-ul­tra slow. He said, ‘I’ve got this tool that costs a for­tune to hire each day, so if you want to use it for any­thing, let me know.’ ”

For Young, it of­fered the ideal way to heighten that open­ing scene and plunge us into a mix­ture of ba­nal­ity and ob­ses­sion that de­fines what fol­lows.

Young has cre­ated three de­mand­ing, re­ward­ing roles, but find­ing the ac­tors to fill them was not en­tirely straight­for­ward. Booth is a good friend he has known for years. “I wrote the role for her, and she said no be­cause she thought the film was too full on.” For­tu­nately, he says, her agent talked her into it.

The per­son for whom he wrote John also turned him down. In his search for an­other ac­tor, he says, it never would have oc­curred to him to ap­proach Curry, whose skills are most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with com­edy and whose sig­na­ture role is in The Cas­tle. “My cast­ing di­rec­tor, Anousha Zarkesh, said to me, Stephen Curry has read your script and he’s ea­ger to do some­thing dark. Would you mind talk­ing to him? We had a chat over the phone and had lots of ideas. I went to Mel­bourne and au­di­tioned him, and he gave the best au­di­tion.”

John has a sur­face af­fa­bil­ity, but it soon dis­solves; he is ma­nip­u­la­tive, vain and chilly, full of self-re­gard. Yet, although he may be in con­trol in­side the house, out­side he’s less as­sured, as we see in a brief scene that sug­gests what his life might have been like be­fore he met a per­son he could dom­i­nate.

Eve­lyn is fix­ated on her two ab­sent chil­dren, whose cus­tody she has for­feited: John knows how to play on her hopes and fan­tasies about be­ing re­united with them. Vicki, ob­serv­ing the na­ture of their re­la­tion­ship, des­per­ately sets out to un­der­mine it be­fore it’s too late.

Young says he was in­trigued by the psy­chol­ogy of the fe­male char­ac­ter. Re­search­ing sim­i­lar sto­ries, he says, “Women of­ten seem to com­mit mur­der through per­ver­sion of virtue or per­ver­sion of jus­tice; they con­vince them­selves that the mur­der of this par­tic­u­lar per­son is the best thing for the world.” Male se­rial killers gen­er­ally need no such ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion. “They do it for their own grat­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Hounds of Love is a dis­tress­ing film, but much of what hap­pens is im­plied rather than de­picted. “What you imag­ine is al­ways go­ing to be so much worse than any­thing I can show you on screen,” Young says. “Had I shown what went on be­hind the door, that’s all peo­ple would have re­mem­bered. They wouldn’t have had time to sit with the char­ac­ters and think about them. I never wanted to make a film about the acts th­ese peo­ple com­mit. I wanted to make a film about the psy­chol­ogy of the peo­ple who com­mit th­ese acts.”

Even so, he says, he was al­ways aware the ac­tors could find some scenes con­fronting, by the na­ture of what was im­plied. “I made it very clear with all of them ex­actly what I was hop­ing to achieve out of a scene and said to ev­ery­body, ‘It’s just a movie, it’s not worth dam­ag­ing your­selves phys­i­cally or psy­cho­log­i­cally for this. We all know what the scenes are about and what we need to get out of them. If I’m ask­ing you to do some­thing you are re­ally un­com­fort­able with, just tell me, and let’s see if we can come up with a way to get the same thing across with­out putting you through things you don’t want to do.’ We did that a cou­ple of times.”

Hounds of Love had its pre­miere in Venice last year, gar­ner­ing strong re­views and a best ac­tress award for Cum­mings. Af­ter Venice, Young found him­self in de­mand in ways he is still com­ing to terms with. “I got an agent out of it and a US man­ager, and I started get­ting bom­barded with screen­plays from the States.”

One was a sci­ence fic­tion film, Ex­tinc­tion, co-writ­ten by Eric Heis­serer ( Ar­rival). “I got a call from my agent say­ing the pro­duc­ers had seen Hounds of Love and wanted to talk to me about their script but that they needed a di­rec­tor ASAP. This was at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber and I’d only just got back from do­ing the fes­ti­val rounds in Europe. So I read it and re­ally liked it, jumped on the phone from the pro­duc­ers and the next thing my agent said was: ‘They want to of­fer you the job.’ ”

Young is speak­ing on set from Ser­bia, where he’s direct­ing a cast in­clud­ing Michael Pena and Lizzy Ca­plan in a sci­ence fic­tion thriller with plenty of spe­cial ef­fects. “It’s a real learn­ing curve for me, that’s for sure. Poles apart from Hounds of Love.” Ex­tinc­tion has nine pro­duc­ers; Hounds of Love had one, Melissa Kelly.

Af­ter Ex­tinc­tion, he’ll scarcely have time to pause. “There’s an­other Amer­i­can script I re­ally want to do that is still in de­vel­op­ment and that’s on the cards.” He’s talk­ing to Craig Sil­vey, au­thor of Jasper Jones, who also co-wrote the screen­play for its adap­ta­tion: “He and I are bouncing a few ideas around.” And with pro­ducer Kelly he’s devel­op­ing a chil­dren’s film.

Af­ter the Hounds of Love’s Venice de­but, “my life changed, lit­er­ally, overnight”. Hounds of Love opens na­tion­ally on June 1.

Di­rec­tor Ben Young

Emma Booth and Stephen Curry in Hounds of Love

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