Thursday, March 30, 2017

BUFF 2017.02: Hounds of Love

What’s up with starting with Day 2? Well, the opening night movie was Prevenge, which I saw at MonsterFest, so when I had to work a little late catching up after my latest vacation, it wasn’t so bad. I got to Harvard Square after the film seated, picked up my Kickstarter package in the lobby without having to fight a crowd, and then crossed the street to the Million Year Picnic to take possession of two weeks’ worth of comics and see what the extra goodies included in the package were. Very VHS-inspired, although the t-shirt looked cool, and the pin is neat. I don’t know that I’m the only one who already had an Adrift in Tokyo DVD (they must be near the end of the Evokative Films stock being used as door prizes for the last couple years), but, hey, if anybody’s listening, it’s free for a good home It’s a good movie. Anyway, I hung around the Picnic for an hour or so, but didn’t make it back in time for the 35mm anniversary screening of Southland Tales. It’s a long one, and while you don’t necessarily have a lot of trouble staying up after coming back from the west coast a day and a half earlier, you may still drag because you didn’t sleep much on an overnight flight in doing so.

So I started again on Thursday, and it was kind of good to know it could be a short night - I also saw A Dark Song at MonsterFest, which meant I could ease into things. It wound up being a pretty great one to start with, too - Hounds of Love was an early favorite for best-of-festival, and I’d probably still put it in the top three. It’s a great little thriller and I found myself fascinated by how writer/director Ben Young built so much of what was happening around how the characters watched what was going on around them, in part because it encouraged the same from the audience. So many thrillers work on hiding things from the viewer, setting up a big scene of filling in the blanks later, but putting it all out there is a lot more satisfying in a lot of ways.

Hounds of Love

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2017 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

“Look closely” can be an empty or obligatory thing to say when explaining why a film is particularly good, especially when, on the surface, it seems like just another crime story that makes its mark with heightened cruelty and violence. Trite as those words may seem, they apply to Hounds of Love, and not just because they let you admire the precise work that filmmaker Ben Young and the cast and crew put in, but because looking closely can become a means of survival.

Not that Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) gives that much thought; the pretty teenager is kind of in a selfish place at the moment, getting her boyfriend Jason (Harrison Gilbertson) to write her essays for her and resenting that, following her parents’ divorce, she’s got to spend the weekends at her mother’s new place rather than at her dad’s. When she sneaks out for a party, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry) see her walking toward the highway and offer her a lift, and they sure don’t seem like the type to kidnap girls like her for a weekend’s worth of amusement before dumping the body. But they are, and they’ve done it enough that they should be way ahead of Vicki as she tries to find a way out.

There is, understandably, a lot of writing about cinema and voyeurism, since it makes for an elegant, recursive arrangement, but that’s not what Young focuses on here. When he has the camera following his characters’ eyes, they’re gathering information, and that’s the way that a lot of the plot moves forward: John and Evelyn get familiar with Vicki’s movements before approaching her, Vicki notes the baby seat in their car and figures they must be safe, and so on. Young and cinematographer Michael McDermot don’t do many (if any) point-of-view shots, but they and editor Merlin Cornish make sure that the audience connects someone looking with what they see and makes sure it’s important information. It means that later, when somebody is surprised by a situation, we know they’ve been careless about not looking everywhere, and when the focus shifts from the kidnappers arguing to a bound Vicki clearly paying attention, it gives direction to the rest of the movie.

Full review on EFC.

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