Hounds of Love (film)

Hounds of Love is a 2016 Australian crime thriller film written and directed by Ben Young. The plot concerns a couple who kidnap and terrorise a young woman in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and was loosely based upon the crimes of David and Catherine Birnie.[1] The film is Young's directorial debut.[2][3] It was selected in the Venice Days competition at the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival, in which Ashleigh Cummings was awarded a Fedeora Award for best actress.

Hounds of Love
Hounds of Love (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBen Young
Written byBen Young
Produced byMelissa Kelly
StarringEmma Booth
Ashleigh Cummings
Stephen Curry
CinematographyMichael McDermott
Edited byMerlin Eden
Music byDan Luscombe
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 1 September 2016 (2016-09-01) (Venice Film Festival)
  • 1 June 2017 (2017-06-01)
Running time
108 minutes


Vicki Maloney, an intelligent and charismatic teenager inwardly struggling with her parents’ recent separation, spends the weekend at her mother's house in outer suburbia. After a heated argument between them, Vicki defiantly sneaks out to attend a party and is lured into the car of a seemingly trustworthy couple, John and Evelyn White.

Vicki soon finds herself held captive at John and Evelyn's house where she is forced into a dark world of violence and domination. With no way to escape and her murder imminent, Vicki realises she must find a way to drive a wedge between them if she is to survive. Vicki tries exploiting Evelyn's desire to see her absent children, unfortunately John's emotional hold over Evelyn is too strong and her efforts to turn them against each other only fuels Evelyn's will to see her die. Broken and tormented, Vicki accepts her fate may soon lie at the bottom of a shallow bush grave.

Vicki's desperate mother Maggie will stop at nothing to find her missing child and enlists the help of her estranged husband Trevor and Vicki's boyfriend Jason. When Maggie's search eventually leads her to John and Evelyn's street, she calls out for her daughter in vain. Hearing her, Vicki finds the strength for one last attempt at survival by forcing Evelyn to realise if she ever wants to see her children again, she must break free from John's evil spell. When John attempts to strangle Vicki to death, he is stabbed to death by Evelyn. Vicki escapes from the house and defiantly walks past the knife-wielding Evelyn, who allows Vicki to pass. Driving away, Maggie sees the bloodied Vicky in her rear-view mirror. She stops the car and is reunited with her daughter.


Real-life inspiration and controversyEdit

David and Catherine Birnie were a suburban Perth couple who, between October-November 1986, kidnapped, raped, and murdered four women, all of whom were subsequently buried in shallow graves. The victims were 22-year-old Mary Neilson, 15-year-old Susannah Candy, 31-year-old Noelene Patterson, and 21-year-old Denise Brown. The Birnies attempted to murder a fifth abductee, 18-year-old Kate Moir, who escaped the Birnies' house the day after her capture; Moir's escape and subsequent statement to the police led to the Birnies' arrest.

The press referred to the Birnies' crimes as "the Moorhouse murders" after the Birnies' address at 3 Moorhouse Street in the Perth suburb of Willagee. After their arrest and trial, David and Catherine Birnie were found guilty of murder, abduction, and rape; both were sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment. David Birnie was found dead in his Casuarina Prison cell in 2005, after hanging himself. Catherine Birnie is currently incarcerated in Bandyup Women's Prison; her bids for parole thus far have been declined. Kate Moir has since campaigned for tougher parole laws for convicted murderers.[4] Now a mother of three, Moir co-wrote a book about her kidnapping and her escape from the Birnies, Dead Girl Walking (2017).

The events depicted in Hounds of Love take place in suburban Perth roughly one year after the real-life Moorhouse murders; Vicki Maloney's capture occurs in December 1987 (after the disappearance of other girls, implied in the film to be earlier victims of John and Evelyn). However, the film's story was originally going to set when the Moorhouse murders actually occurred: in early 2016 it was reported that the film's casting co-ordinator, Maya Kavanagh, had advertised for extras to appear in a film set “in the summer of 1986."[5]

The film's John and Evelyn White correspond approximately to David and Catherine Birnie, although the background of the Whites' relationship differs significantly from the relationship of the Birnies (who first met each other and began their relationship when they were teenagers of roughly the same age; in Hounds of Love, Evelyn is younger than John and it is revealed she was groomed by him, leading to her psychological dependency and need to assist in his crimes). The film's John White has a mental hold over Evelyn that is only broken at the end; in real life, Catherine Birnie was the dominant partner in the relationship, with their escapee Kate Moir attesting that "David was the puppet, Catherine was the puppeteer."[6]

The film's denouement, in which Evelyn murders John, bears no relation with what happened to the Birnies, who were both arrested, tried, and imprisoned for their crimes. Catherine Birnie was reportedly "unrepentant" and believed what she and David Birnie did was "logical."[7]

The film's Vicki Maloney is a composite character who most closely resembles Susannah Candy and Kate Moir, the Birnies' two known teenage victims. Like Susannah Candy, Vicki is depicted as the teenage schoolgirl daughter of a prominent Perth surgeon. Susannah Candy was abducted by the Birnies whilst hitchhiking on the Stirling Highway; in Hounds of Love, dialogue indicates Vicki is walking towards a highway before the Whites pick her up on the road. Susannah Candy was forced by the Birnies to send letters to her family to assure them she was all right, which happens to Vicki in the film; also, Susannah Candy was forced to ingest sleeping pills, as Evelyn attempts to do to Vicki. Vicki also resembles Kate Moir inasmuch as she manages to flee her abductors' home as Kate Moir did.

When Hounds of Love began production, casting director Jacqueline Alliss referred to the project as "a film about the Birnies" but she later retracted her statement and said it "was incorrect." Others involved in the film's production also publicly downplayed its connection to David and Catherine Birnie. Hounds of Love producer Melissa Kelly said "This film is not based on the Birnies. The story is inspired by a number of true crimes that happened in Australia and overseas, however, it is a work of fiction. Of course, people will draw conclusions to WA events in the 80s, as they will to more recent events in the US.”[8]

Hounds of Love writer/director Ben Young pointed out that the film is not marketed as a "true crime" story, stating, "Due to the premise, it’s inevitable some people will draw comparisons to the heinous crimes of a Western Australian couple. However, it’s our hope that due to the handling of the material this will not happen outside WA where people are less familiar with their crimes. [Our] intention was never to provide notoriety for those not worthy of it. I studied nine similar cases involving couples to try and gain an insight into their psychology, not to find plot points. All references to the couple in regards to our film have been nothing but speculation. Rather [we wanted] to make a challenging film examining issues of co-dependence, control and domestic violence."[9]

However, Australian film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who has written extensively on violence and rape in horror and exploitation cinema, said, "It’s incomprehensible to me to look at [Hounds of Love] as anything other than a true-crime movie: the details are too close, too similar. I even looked up the house that the Birnie murders took place in on one of those real-estate websites and the layout of the house in Hounds of Love is almost identical.”[10]

Kate Moir, the Birnies' one surviving victim, publicly criticised the production of Hounds of Love, stating, "I feel taken advantage of and confused — why give [the Birnies] oxygen? It is disappointing because I just want them forgotten.”[11] The review of Hounds of Love in The New York Times notes, "That the news media in Western Australia has noted [the film's] similarities to a real case — the 1986 murder spree of David and Catherine Birnie — only heightens the sense of exploitation."[12]


The film was given a limited theatrical release in June 2017 and was met with critical praise. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88%, based on 98 reviews, and an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Smartly constructed and powerfully acted, Hounds of Love satisfies as a psychological thriller with a few nasty surprises — and marks writer-director Ben Young as a promising talent."[13] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "generally favourable reviews".[14]

Critics found common ground in their enthusiasm about the psychological component to the horror depicted, as well as various technical aspects, particularly the cinematography and direction.[15][16][17]

The film was nominated for 9 AACTA awards in 2017 winning Emma Booth a Best Actress in a Feature Film Award.


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
Best Film Melissa Kelly Nominated
Best Direction Ben Young Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Actor Stephen Curry Nominated
Best Actress Emma Booth Won
Best Supporting Actress Susie Porter Nominated
Best Cinematography Michael McDermott Nominated
Best Editing Merlin Eden Nominated
Best Hair and Makeup Hayley Atherton Nominated
Kate Anderson Nominated
ACS Award WA/ SA Division Awards Michael McDermott Won
ADG Award Best Direction in a Feature Film Ben Young Nominated
AFCA Awards[18] Best Film Melissa Kelly Won
Best Director Ben Young Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Actor Stephen Curry Nominated
Best Actress Emma Booth Won
Best Supporting Actress Ashleigh Cummings Nominated
ASE Award Best Editing in a Feature Film Merlin Eden Nominated
ATOM Award Best Feature Film Melissa Kelly and Ben Young Won
AWGIE Award Best Original Feature Film Screenplay Ben Young Nominated
Boston Underground Film Festival Audience Award for Best Feature Nominated
Brussels Film Festival Grand Prix for Best Director Won
Grand Prix for Best Actress Emma Booth Won
FCCA Awards Best Film Melissa Kelly Nominated
Best Screenplay Ben Young Nominated
Best Actor Stephen Curry Won
Best Actress Emma Booth Won
Best Actress - Supporting Role Susie Porter Won
Best Cinematography Michael McDermott Nominated
Best Editing Merlin Eden Nominated
Munich Film Festival CineVision Award for Best Film by an Emerging Director Ben Young Nominated
Overlook Film Festival Best Film and Audience Award Ben Young and Melissa Kelly Won
Screen Producers Australia Best Feature Film Melissa Kelly Nominated
Transilvania International Film Festival Transilvania Trophy for Best Film Melissa Kelly and Ben Young Nominated
Venice Film Festival[19][20] Fedeora Award for Best Actress in a Debut Film (Venice Days) Ashleigh Cummings Won


  1. ^ "True crime plunderers: the dark truth about Hounds of Love and Australia's new gorefest | Film | The Guardian".
  2. ^ David Rooney (2 September 2016). "'Hounds of Love': Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  3. ^ Eddie Cockrell (1 September 2016). "Venice Film Review: 'Hounds of Love'". Variety. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  4. ^ "Birnie survivor Kate Moir and WA police officer Laura Hancock together after three decades". PerthNow. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  5. ^ "Hounds of Love feature film inspired by 'true crimes'". PerthNow. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  6. ^ "'Are you going to rape me or kill me?'". news.com.au. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  7. ^ "Birnie survivor Kate Moir and WA police officer Laura Hancock together after three decades". PerthNow. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  8. ^ "Hounds of Love feature film inspired by 'true crimes'". PerthNow. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  9. ^ "Survivor blasts 'Birnie' film". The West Australian. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  10. ^ "True crime plunderers: the dark truth about Hounds of Love and Australia's new gorefest". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Survivor blasts 'Birnie' film". The West Australian. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  12. ^ "Review: 'Hounds of Love' Is Tense and Deadly Down Under". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Hounds of Love (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  14. ^ "Hounds of Love Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  15. ^ "Film Calendar - The Austin Chronicle". The Austin Chronicle. 12 May 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Hounds of Love is one of the most horrifying films of the year". The Atlantic. 12 May 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Tracking Shots: This Week In Film". Village Voice. 10 May 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  18. ^ "The 2018 AFCA Awards". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 14 March 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  19. ^ Vittoria Scarpa (9 September 2016). "The Venice Days Award goes to The War Show". CinEuropa. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  20. ^ "Hounds of Love trailer gives abduction horror an 80s twist". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 5 June 2017.

External linksEdit