Wednesday, 31 May 2017
The most discomfiting Australian film since 2011's Snowtown, Hounds of Love doesn't achieve Justin Kurzel's level of excruciating brilliance but Ben Young's directorial debut is, for the most part, an excellent foray into the domestic horror genre.
Not based on actual events like Kurzel's debut, Hounds of Love is set during a sweltering December in the lead up to Christmas. It's 1987 and a simpler time in Australia, so much so that when teenage girls go missing with seeming regularity, police brush their parents off with assurances that they've simply run away. No one would suspect their sleepy little 'burb to be the hunting ground of a sex predator or, worse still, a serial killer. Make that two.
For John White (Stephen Curry, perfectly creepy) is ably assisted in his abduction, rape, torture and murder of these young women by Evie (Emma Booth), who shares John's passion for cruel sexual thrills. Or does she? Is Evie also a victim? Certainly of domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, but she's very much an accomplice. Her presence in John's car as he cruises for his prey is the honey in the trap: he can't possibly be a bad guy if he has a woman with him, right?
The opening scenes of Hounds reveals John and Evie's modus operandi, from pick up to disposal, so we know what's in store for Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings) when, after climbing out her bedroom window to attend a party after being grounded by her mother (Susie Porter), she's picked up by the predators with the promise of cheap pot, and then cheaper wine, back at their place.
Cue (not completely unwarranted) accusations of torture porn as we spend the next 36 or so hours inside an unassuming brick house on Malcolm Street as a series of humiliations and horrors unfold for Vicky, and also Evie. As Vicky takes every opportunity to escape -- from an encoded runaway letter forged at knife point, to attempting to get inside Evie's head -- Evie slowly becomes unhinged; suspecting that John may be taking more of an interest in their latest capture than he usually does.
For the first hour of Hounds of Love, the tension is palpable as we bear witness to two monsters at play and watch, helplessly, as their victim suffers at their hands (and the sex toys contained in a brown shoe box). It's a controlled study in the banality of evil.
But then Young seems to remember his film is also a thriller and, whether to hit certain beats or draw out the tension, his film begins to lose momentum. Young even gives a nod to Silence of the Lambs in the film's climactic moments, which are tense but also a little too drawn out. In its best moments, however, Hounds of Love is truly horrifying.
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
The Zookeeper's Wife, directed Niki Caro (Whale Rider, 2002), is adapted from the 2007 Diane Ackerman novel by Angela Workman, and it is very much a workman-like effort. Solid and tasteful (and handsomely mounted for just $20 million) it's not the least bit remarkable: the film trades on cute animals and the horrors of the Holocaust to wring tears from the audience.
Jessica Chastain, who is also a producer on the film, is valiant in spite of her distractingly thick Polish accent. She plays Antonina Zabinski, the wife of the keeper at Warsaw Zoo, Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who together, when war arrives, decide to use their bombed out animal park to house, hide and aid in the escape of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto.
Although based on actual events – and end credit tells us that the Zabinskis saved some 300 lives, men, women and children – the film is more storybook than history book. That's not helped by Daniel Bruhl as Lutz Heck, a snarling Nazi villain and fellow zoologist with an eye for Antonina. (Ironically, among a cast who speak English with varying Polish accents, German actor Bruhl sounds the most English.)
You may get weepy during The Zookeeper's Wife but Caro's film boasts very few real emotions and only the occasional dose of suspense. Perhaps Ackerman's novel would be a better place to learn about the heroics of the Zabinskis; good people who risked their own lives to save others from a once unimaginable horror which is, sadly, all too believable today.