The opening shot sequence of Ben Young’s Hounds of Love (2017) has visual clues as to the film’s theme and tone, and also to what the entire film is all about. The audio track also contributes to the build-up, but that being nothing extraordinary, I would keep to the visual side of the scene. I’ve taken here the first 02:36 minutes of the less than three minute long scene and it has 13 shots, and not shot is extraneous.
As the scene fades in, through the symbolic high chicken wire fence we see, in a wide shot, some teenage girls in high skirts playing basketball on a school ground. The camera tracks right at a very high frame rate (i.e., at an extra-slow speed). The shot (Shot 2) that follows is a tight close-up of the breasts of one of the girls, indicating that somebody is watching her. This in hindsight adds sense to the preceding slow motion–somebody (who we don’t yet know) is savoring every bit of the view.
Then another similar close-up of another girl. And then a thigh close-up of yet another girl, followed by a close-up scanning of another or the first girl from her chest down to the knees. Shots 2 through 5 on end. These close-ups powerfully imply that this person’s sexual interest is random–not a planned one, which makes it more dangerous.
Shot 6 is a wide one, which we don’t get instantly because can’t yet get our eyes off the visually dominating girls at the center of the frame. But as the camera pulls back allowing the wispy hair (which is to be of a woman) to enter the frame, we begin to make sense of her position–she is in a car, and in a matter of a few split seconds we scan the bottom line of the frame and discover the dash board and the steering wheel on the right corner. (It’s not America). Before us having time to think and reason, we find our eyes already scanning the screen because (i) the visuals cues in this shot are arranged for this psychological effect and (ii) something is still missing–if the hair we are seeing is of a woman and if she is not a lesbian, who is it watching the girls so lecherously? Moreover, the woman sits on the left, and there must be somebody behind the steering wheel on the right.
Shot 7 has a very tight close-up of woman’s face, dominantly the eyes. This shot is powerful in two sense. First, the woman leans her head against the window frame and her eyes are barely open–a sign of tiredness, boredom and impatience, and evidently she is not interested (it has character implications for the rest of the film), implying that it is not her that has been watching the girls’ bodies, (ii) the face languidly turns away from the camera, leading us to Shot 8.
A tighter close-up of a man’s face, his eyes, Shot 8 contrasts sharply with the preceding shot–here in this shot, the eyes are as keen and energetic as those of a predator lying in wait for a prey.
Shot 9 has the black, out-of-focus head of this man occupying the right half of the frame while most of the left side of the frame is covered by another car and in the squeezed space between them, we see a girl getting on into her car after the game and behind it a girl walking back home. We hear the car engine start. In Shot 10, the car engine hums and the man adjusts the gear.
This watching is so powerfully eerie that the fear of being watched hauntingly overhangs almost every wide shots throughout the film.
In the wide Shot 11, the girl walks on the side of the road on the left and the car enters the frame from the bottom left corner. Shot 12 is from the interior of the car and it feels suffocating–there is something menacing about it. The shot has the woman slightly off-focus looking at the man and then forward while the man’s attention is not diverted. Meanwhile the car now gets there and the woman talks to the girl in kind friendly words. She says the girl can get in and they would drop her.
Shot 13 has the girl get on in the car and thank the couple.
With very little dialogue in it, we get the information–the couple has kidnapped the girl. But the information is incomplete–why do they do this? Clearly the man has sexual reasons, but if that’s all about it, why is his wife in in? How is the relationship between the husband and wife holding? We want to know more, and this drives the plot forward.
There are some other beautiful things about the film’s design. I will write about that in another post.