By MICHAEL GINGOLD
The powerfully disturbing Australian crime/horror thriller HOUNDS OF LOVE will likely be a breakout film for its first-time writer/director Ben Young and also for its stars, Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings and Stephen Curry. The trio recall both the dark and lighter sides of filming HOUNDS below, continuing the conversation that began here.
HOUNDS OF LOVE opens this Friday, May 12 in U.S. theaters and on VOD from Filmbuff/Gunpowder & Sky and in Canadian cinemas from ABMO Films; go here for a complete list of venues. Speaking with RUE MORGUE at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival, the three leads are far more cheerful than the scenario they enact in the movie. Cummings plays Vicki, a suburban teenager who is kidnapped by Evelyn and John White (Booth and Curry), a severely dysfunctional and sadistic couple who have already tortured and murdered a series of young female victims. Although HOUNDS OF LOVE is not graphically explicit in terms of the abuse Vicki suffers, it is unsparing in its depiction of her psychological torment, and the deeply troubled relationship between Evelyn and John (which Vicki attempts to exploit in order to survive). And Cummings did spend a good deal of the shoot chained to a bed, as part of what the actors recall as a very intense experience…
Ashleigh, you had the most physically grueling scenes to do. Were those all shot together, or were they spread out throughout the shoot?
STEPHEN CURRY: Oh, it seemed like it was just constant for you!
ASHLEIGH CUMMINGS: Yeah, it felt like it was always, “Get back into the bed…” But you know what? Despite the fact that it was physically grueling, I got to lie down on the set all the time!
SC: [Laughs] She was very lazy!
AC: I could have a nap between setups, you know? Sometimes I just get the handcuffs off and have a rest, because we didn’t get much sleep. So it was actually probably more physically taxing for the two of you.
SC: But the intensity that Ashleigh maintained through the filming, you’re right, was on the next level. It was such a remarkable thing to see, and to be absorbed by. Often, you talk about how it’s all about pretending, but it became impossible to pull myself away from it, because it is a heartbreaking performance, coming from this incredible actress. That’s when I started being reminded of the reality of it, and that this sort of thing actually happens, and it was impossible to not be emotionally affected by the story we were telling.
EMMA BOOTH: Yeah, I cried quite a few times, and had to turn away, because I started bawling at her performance. I was like, “Fuck, I’m slipping out on everyone.” But luckily, most of those times, I wasn’t actually on screen, though I had to turn so Ashleigh couldn’t see me. That first time you screamed, when “Nights in White Satin” is playing…
SC: Good luck hearing that song any other way ever again!
EB: It was like, my heart! First of all, I thought, “Oh my God, the neighbors who actually live next door to this house…”
SC: Oh yeah, and they had kids too!
EB: And then my next thought was, “Well, we cast the right girl!” I’ll tell you what, I’ve never heard a scream like yours, girlfriend!
AC: And it lasts. I think that’s probably the main reason I was cast—that I have a sustainable scream.
SC: It’s bloodcurdling! It’s really remarkable.
EB: It’s one of those horror-film screams that I can’t do.
AC: It’s the only thing on my résumé these days!
SC: And used to great effect by Ben Young in a particular scene that you’ll remember, where the door closes. Who knew that a door closing could be such an impactful and hideously frightening moment in a film, and very much helped by what comes out of your lungs. It’s quite remarkable.
AC: Similarly, I would find myself watching them as an actor, being like, “Wow, that’s incredible!”
Did they play “Nights in White Satin” on the set while filming that scene?
EB: We originally had a different song, and Ben couldn’t get the rights.
SC: Wasn’t it “Crimson and Clover”?
EB: No, that was when I’m dancing in the mirror; that was going to be “Crimson and Clover.” We had first choices for the songs, but we had no money; we had $1.4 million Australian—just over $1 million American—so we had to fight for the music, fight for everything, because we didn’t have the budget most films do. Ben was able to get some of his music choices, but other times we couldn’t, and we’d lose another song and lose another song, and it was like, “Please, let us be able to afford this!” He eventually got “Nights in White Satin”; we were going to use a different song, but it was so perfect, and it’s one of my favorite songs in the world, too. So is “Carol of the Bells,” that Christmas song.
SC: And what about [Cat Stevens’] “Lady D’Arbanville” as well? To think about this film having, as Emma was saying, a $1-million U.S. budget, to get that soundtrack is another example of how blessed this film is. That’s unheard of.
Most of the film is set within the closed confines of John and Evelyn’s house. How was the experience of shooting there?
AC: It was so claustrophobic.
SC: I don’t want to ever, ever go inside that house again.
EB: I’m over it! [Laughs all around] It was so hot and demanding and intense and claustrophobic. We had 30 crewmembers in there, in this tiny house, and trying to get into those emotional spaces… I was glad to see the end of that house, but it was so frickin’ worth the product we came up with.
SC: Clayton Jauncey, the designer, worked with Ben very closely on that house, and it’s another good example of the restrained nature of this film. In the wrong hands, it could have been kind of a goblins’ house, this horrific, scary place, the one the kids don’t want to go near. But it just seems so normal, and that’s part of what makes it really creepy. It’s innocuous, and it just blends into that palette of late-’80s suburbia, which I think is far more effective.
EB: And then it’s the same with our characters. Ben always said, “If you were in a shopping center and you walked past John and Evelyn, you wouldn’t look twice at them.” They’re the most normal-looking people, you know what I mean? We didn’t want some ultra-creepy couple. They just blend into society, and that’s what Ben was after.
Were there any issues dealing with the dog John and Evelyn own in the film?
AC: That dog, Lulu, was the most beautiful-natured dog you’d ever meet, just wonderful. But it would refuse to bark at me, because we had a good connection, let’s just say. So the animal wrangler just whipped out a duck from I don’t know where, a real duck, and popped it on the windowsill for the dog to bark at. And then later, he was dealing with the dog and didn’t have time to collect the duck, so I had to take it off the windowsill and put it on a basket, and I just hung out with it for an hour. While I was trying to escape to my freedom, this duck was just looking at me. It was a good acting partner; it really brought out the best in me!