abductions

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Rising Above: The Women in Hounds of Love *Spoilers Below!*

Published May 12, 2017 by rmpixie

Hounds of Love (2016, 1 hr, 48 mins.)

In Hounds of Love, Ben Young’s first feature-length film, a murderous couple in the city of Perth, Australia, stalks teenage girls to fulfil their sexual fantasies. The acts are orchestrated by John (Stephen Curry), a sexual predator who is cold, mean and conniving. His character is riveting because Young gives you just enough to wonder about what happened to this man to make him so diabolical, but the women surrounding him are equally compelling.

The film is set in 1987, when women were still coming off the gains from first wave feminism only to be kicked back by conservatism in the Reagan era. Traditional values were revisited and shunned by women who wanted to blaze trails and be the independent people their sisters before them fought for. I’m not sure if Young took any of this into account as he wrote the film, but with this era as a backdrop, there’s an interesting theme of traditional versus the modern woman running through the story.

Keeping second-wave feminism in mind, there are two distinct representations of women in the film. We have Vicki’s mother Maggie (Susie Porter) who is gaining her independence after leaving her husband, and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) herself, a young adult pushing the boundaries and also looking for her place in the world without any parental interference. These two characters represent the burgeoning modern woman. Evelyn (Emma Booth), John’s wife and murderous cohort, is the more traditional figure. She does the cooking, cleaning and looks after her man and his conquests, doing her wifely duties in an extreme way.

Cummings as Vicki just before she is abducted.

Maggie is spreading her wings. Newly divorced, she is starting her new life and hopes to maintain her relationship with her daughter. Divorce in the 80’s was no longer taboo, in fact, it was becoming more common at that time due to changes with laws in North America and Australia. As a child of divorce, Vicki is processing her broken family home and experiencing her rebellious teen years. She deals with it in a typical way by defying her mother, seen as the person who destroyed their family because she’s left both Vicki and her father. Vicki attempts to be her own person despite the upheaval, and even has some power over her well-meaning boyfriend as he writes her school assignments for her. Both women are making efforts to create their own identity. Evelyn, on the other hand, finds comfort in her relationship. She is John’s caretaker and literal partner in crime; the nursemaid to their victims and his dutiful wife. There is no defiance here, only the urge to serve and be wanted. The actions of all three have consequences of varying degrees, but Evelyn’s is the most extreme case by living under the façade of a traditional role while she aids and abets the criminal activities of John.

Each woman will affect one another’s lives in the most unsettling of ways. When Vicky rebels against her mother and sneaks out to go to a party, she is lured into captivity by Evelyn and John. She is tough, however, and thinks on her feet, not succumbing completely to the fear of her abduction. As Evelyn cares for her captive, she forces information out of Vicki, and becomes jealous of her when she realized John’s interest in their captive. Evelyn wants to be as defiant and desirable as the teen, and when she fails to stand up to John, wants to break Vicki’s spirit to prove John loves her more.

We find out that Evelyn comes from a history of abuse that John rescued her from, and it’s the only thing she knows. She is angry, isolated and desperate, and needs something to care about since her children from a previous relationship were taken from her, so John gives her a dog. Her dog is a replacement for the lost children and her only tie to maternal feelings. Director Young said he used the dog to create sympathy for Evelyn, and it does indeed do that as it finds a violent end. But what we must remember is that she is part and parcel with John’s evil machinations. Even though she fears him and fears losing him, she knows right from wrong and still decides to participate. It’s this sobering fact that she played a part in the deaths of their victims, and that her washing the bloodied sheets and cleaning up the crime scene is just as heinous as the act itself. She is the woman that will do anything for love.

John (Curry) and Evelyn (Booth) have a moment together before the brutality.

Evelyn and Maggie are complete opposites. Evelyn represents the perversion of domestic subservience. She does as John wants, takes care of the home, and yearns to be a mother where Maggie refuses this role. Maggie moves into her own house and wants to start fresh, but the resentment felt by her husband when their daughter goes missing is a fresh wound that he picks at, blaming her for their child’s disappearance and shaming her for her independence. Maggie shows inner strength in this situation as she refuses his patronizing help, determined to find her daughter; in fact, Maggie ignores the patronizing police officers as well and carries on with the search led by her instincts.

Where Maggie stands up to her husband, John taunts Evelyn about losing her children and she takes it. Her traditional mindset in this setting is a distortion of the abuses women fight against. Top it off with John’s monstrous and manipulative patriarchal power, and you have an extreme microcosm of what traditional norms do to women who reject them. Maggie’s punishment for leaving the nuclear home is her daughter’s rape and torture.  At one point Evelyn tells Vicki she should have listened to her mother and stayed home after Vicki tells her the truth about her dog’s role and that John is just using her. Evelyn also judges Maggie even though she doesn’t know her, sneering at the broken marriage; mocking Maggie’s independence perhaps because Evelyn too has tried to leave but failed on her own. She doesn’t want to focus on the wrongs she has done to the young women they have captured, instead emboldened by falling back into John’s favour, she taunts and blames Vicki for the crimes committed against her.  It’s as if Evelyn and John feel justified in their actions because these independent women didn’t toe the line and stick with traditional roles.

Evelyn and John lord over the girls like a twisted traditional family. They punish those coming up in the new world, dominating girls and putting them in their place. They don’t put them in a shed or a dark, dank basement, instead their victims are placed in a very regular bedroom, held down with chains. It shows their arrogance and how close evil lies in seemingly safe environments. We never get to know John’s backstory or internal process, but it seems that from the relationship he has with other men, namely his drug dealer, he is the low man on the totem pole and his displeasure manifests in obsessive behaviour and manipulating, dominating, or killing women.

*************************Spoiler Alert*******************************************************

There is only so much unrealistic traditional values can affect its environment and only so far it can go with the fantasy that everyone will accept their roles. The same goes for John and Evelyn. The murderous couple’s vision of marital bliss and conservative appearance is skewed by their fervour for sex, blood and torture and they aren’t as perfect as they see themselves. Even though John calls Evelyn his “queen” and he seems to love her in a way, neighbours complaining about their toxic relationship reveals that imperfection. Eventually there has to be a breaking point and Evelyn will reach it because of her insecurities surrounding her desirability. With this crack in the façade, it’s only a matter of time before things start to crumble.

Maggie finds the neighbourhood where Vicki is being held and frantically shouts her name in the street. In this moment, Evelyn relates to Maggie’s loss as a mother and must make a decision. Egged on by Vicki’s goading, she chooses to kill John because he has denied her of her children as well. In this moment, she finally stands up to him, and becomes independent like Maggie and Vicki. Her fate is sealed but she is now free of a domineering male figure; freeing herself, and the other women around her from the torture. She is by no means a heroine, but at the same time becomes a liberator of sorts for Vicki and herself.   Her last act is cold comfort for redemption, but at least closes the circle of evil she has perpetuated.

There is so much to say about male and female relationships, women’s power and accountability in such a brutal way in this film. I have only scratched the surface, but in a nutshell, Hounds of Love is not only a terrifying psychological thriller, but an in depth look at how women who step out of prescribed roles overcome criticism, sexism and brutality with inner strength.

*Read my review of the film on Cinema Axis here.

Dark Skies and Crumbling Dreams

Published June 23, 2013 by rmpixie

darkskies

 

Fellow Horror fans, my apologies for not posting something sooner.  I suffered a lack of inspiration and couldn’t find my kitsch appreciation groove.  It was a flat-line for a while, and I looked for days for something to watch; sometimes stopping midway during a film that I couldn’t bear to finish, which is rare since I’ll watch anything!  Never fear though, as I have a renewed interest and there seems to be some great films out there, so this pixie is happy again!

One film I was interested in was Dark Skies.  I saw this come out a few months ago, and missed it in the theatres, so I was anxiously awaiting the dvd release. I am glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this moody, alien abduction story.

Lacy and Daniel Barrett (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) seem to lead an idyllic, boring suburban life.  Two sons, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett), a nice house and barbeques on the weekends.  It’s great, except for the fact that Daniel, who was laid off, can’t find a job and Lacy, a real estate agent, can’t sell any houses.  They are also plagued by bizarre, nightly happenings. Each night, the events get stranger, and every day, the family becomes more stressed. Food scattered and half eaten on the kitchen floor, various household items impossibly stacked to the ceiling and a disturbing bird incident seem like mild annoyances after weird seizures start to affect the entire family.  When there is evidence of abuse with their sons, Lacy and Daniel are pushed to believe that these events aren’t coming from the boys, a prankster, stress or even this planet.  Enlisting the help of Edwin Pollard (J. K. Simmons), an abduction and alien expert, Lacy and Daniel prepare to accept the unbelievable, and hopefully get their life back.

I liked the mundane, suburban backdrop for this alien abduction story.  The American dream of raising a family and having a ‘normal’ life becomes a nightmare.  The aliens and the disruptions they create are a great metaphor for the lack of control over our lives in general.  I think this film got panned generally because some reviewers thought it was either too clichéd or was a thinly veiled dissertation on right-wing fears of being invaded by foreigners.  I see it as a tad tongue in cheek.  Most plod along only hoping for the house, the car, the job and 2.5 kids.  When things don’t happen as we expect, who you gonna blame, “India and China”? That’s who Daniel’s ‘everyman’ neighbour blames.  But no, it’s not “them” (gasp!).  What better explanation for kids acting up, stress on a marriage, and medical oddities than aliens?  I am a fan of the show Ancient Aliens (and have a secret crush on Giorgio Tsoukalos-the crazy hair guy) where scholars give compelling evidence of aliens being here all along.  Heck, some believe we carry alien DNA.  Who am I to argue?  Better to blame the aliens than ourselves.  I actually like to blame “The Man” myself, who just may have a slightly gray pallor to his skin and lots of probes…but I digress.

Director Scott Stewart (who also directed Priest and Legion), did a decent job with the mood of Dark Skies.  Although I though the pacing was a tad slow, you could feel the foreboding tension building as we move through the story, and I loved the simplicity of the film.  Special effects were minimal but effective to make this story believable, and I found the stark quality to each scene brought the characters and their emotions to the forefront.  And speaking of characters, I though the cast did a good job in portraying the regular suburban family, but the stand out for me was J. K. Simmons.  I have been a fan of his since OZ where he played Vern Schillinger, the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and someone you just loved to hate.  Usually he nails various gruff, abrasive roles, but this time around, he is very quiet and subdued.  His character Pollard is quite different from the clichéd alien conspiracy theorist.  He believes because he knows.  He has given in to the reality of aliens among us and also lives with a bunch of cats which is great in my books.  Pollard has only a few moments in the film, but he brings in a touch of comedy and is a great transition to the tense finale.

Dark Skies is a great addition to the abduction genre.  Stewart creates an interesting film that takes everyday family stresses in the all American clueless home and gives them a more sinister origin.  Definitely makes you think about that weird mosquito bite, or why that bird keeps looking at you funny…

Favourite Scene:  When Lacy learns that dogs will go berserk when aliens are near, she races to the local pound.  Stopping in front of a particularly nutso German Shepherd named Clive who is described as “Aggressive!!!”, she makes a clipped statement rather than a question, “What about this one?…yeah” to son Jesse.  Yeah, Clive will do.

Most Memorable Line:  When talking to Pollard about why they have been chosen by the aliens, Lacy asks, “What makes us so special?”, to which he flatly replies, “Nothing.”  It’s true.  The aliens are just messing with us because we are boring lab rats.  Not like we’ve solved any problems here on Earth, or stopped any wars for world peace, or treat each other any better.  Earth is probably the worst truck stop in the universe…

 

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