Hounds of Love (2017) is a bleak, sad movie. Ben Young’s directorial debut certainly rides the lines of fringe horror; dipping dangerously close to torture porn, it manages to salvage itself by presenting a different and unique look at the genre.

Vicki, played by Ashleigh Cummings, is a young girl who is happy with her boyfriend and annoyed with her parents. She’s every teenage girl in Australia. The difference is that Vicki gets picked up by Evelyn, played masterfully by Emma Booth, and John, played by comic Stephen Curry who takes a dark and violent part in the film. Evelyn and John take girls home and sadistically torture and kill them over the course of a week. As the movie unfolds, with Evelyn as the leading lady, the viewer realizes that Vicki isn’t the only captive in the house.

John uses Evelyn’s psychological fragility and broken past against her to manipulate her into emotionally and physically committing unforgivable acts. Young manages to take a movie with a plot that is a standard cardboard cutout for horror and add layers of depth to it. Where the viewer would normally cringe from the violence of a film with this modus operandi, he instead dances around the violence suggestively to focus on the shattering psycho-drama of the household. As the story unfolds, the audience and Vicki both learn that Evelyn has a traumatic past involving her children from another man, and John bends that to his favor to guarantee her role in the foul play.

It’s a rough movie to sit through. Very rarely are any glimpses of hope seen and, despite Vicki’s intelligence, she never truly gets the best of her captives. She instead uses time and her words to slowly chip away at Vicki’s already cracked psyche, while John slowly aids his own downfall by obsessing over Vicki more than past victims.

Emma Booth is a tightrope walker, neatly balancing between silent rage and absolute breakdown. Stephen Curry pulls his own weight as the scrawny but savage John, scarily executing an on screen manipulation that will make your skin crawl. Ashleigh Cummings does well but her character is more of a vessel for the story; still, her wide eyed terror helps sell the moments that are meant to cut deep. Between the three of them, the atmosphere of absolute dread drenches the entire movie in nerve wracking anxiety.

The soundtrack helps play into the unsettling and unnerving life of the tract home captors. Songs like “Nights in White Satin” by Moody Blues play over disturbing scenes that harken back to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. Cinematographer Michael McDermott creates slow motion tracking shots that land the camera on normally mundane objects (a laundry line, a pig ceramic) that, coupled on top of the dry and dreary Christmas setting, end up turning the sunny daydream into a waking nightmare.

Overall, the movie is well made. Its grounded and harshly realistic approach make it difficult to take in one sitting and one scene in particular is so needlessly violent that it will turn your stomach. Although the movie is able to breathe fresh air into a sub-genre that’s been stale for a long while, it’s guaranteed to be polarizing. The final act makes one five minute scene feel twenty minutes long, and Evelyn falls prey to predictability right before the credits roll. With Hounds of Love, Ben Young has shown that he can flip the script and bring a fresh eye to the genre, and clearly has a lot of talent that he’s ready to show off.

4 out of 5 stars.

Courtesy of Factor 30 Films, Hounds of Love releases to North American cinemas on 12 May 2017 and Australian cinemas on 1 June 2017. The film was screened at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival (22 to 26 March 2017).