Obsession with Order and Rhythm in Hounds of Love

Ben Young’s psychological thriller Hounds of Love (2016) has some interesting aesthetic elements expressed visually in mise-en-scene and cinematography (which are the visual signs of the directorial signature) that consistently weave the psychological fabric of John (Stephen Curry), the randomly murderous husband who suffers a certain form of OCD. John is obsessed with cleanliness and having things in symmetry and perfect order, an obsession that finally lands him in his own doom. The things in his house, especially in the kitchen, are arranged in perfect symmetry or order. More than just an order, the things form a rhythm–similar things put in perfect order, like repeating beats in music. Evelyn (Emma Booth)–John’s wife who, from fear that she would be left behind by her passively abusive husband–acts helplessly subserviently on whatever he tells her to do, including getting herself involved in randomly abducting girls for his sex prey and finally killing them.

Even though it is Evelyn that is actually doing everything to keep the house in perfect symmetry, order and rhythm, her meticulous engagement in these rituals indicates her having become a behavioral extension of her husband, a deep subservience born of the insecurity as a wife she experiences.

This obsessive care for order–a transferred behavior–is seen when she prepares her husband’s breakfast toasts–she arranges them in a perfect line and checks the order repeatedly. This obsession is seen everywhere in the kitchen–the dining table has two knives and two salt containers set out neatly as a pair. The wall in the background has such sets of things. The frame itself is symmetrical. Everything about the house is in perfect rhythm–cigarette butts in an ash tray, the cutlery, the plates, small pieces of works of art.

The cigarette butts ranged in a line form a rhythm.

The cutlery, the jars form a rhythm each of their own that together form a larger rhythm.

The plates, bowls, the jars and the knives on the knife holder form their won respective rhythms in this shot.

The two wolves form a rhythm in this shot.

The legs of the animal, its breasts, and the two children form their own respective rhythms in this shot.

The obsession is to such an extent that the couple’s bodies form a rhythm even when they sleep. In the frame below, the corresponding parts of the couple’s bodies have similar orientations. Even the pillows.

The couple walks in their rooms barefoot. They leave their shoes on the shoe-rack near the door. Every time they put their shoes on the rack, they pay studious care to order and rhythm, as seen in the following instance, one of many in the film.

John’s obsession with cleanliness is also evident in the indulgence attention he pays himself when he shaves himself and narcissistically watches himself in the mirror while Evelyn, as part of her household upkeep, cleans up the blood-stained tissues at the foot of their captive girl’s bed.

John’s cleanliness obsession is to such an extent that he hates it when the captive girl he rapes turns out to be a virgin and blood is all over between her legs smearing him with blood. He stops short, recoils in utter disgust and rushes to the bathroom and showers.

His sexual interest is turned off by the sight of the captive girl in chains wetting her bed. His cannot control himself when he sees his wife’s dog shits in the rooms.

John kicks the dog to death when he finds it in the room and the frightened dog runs into the kitchen to avoid facing him instead of getting out of the house.

Rather than the Young taking recourse to a more direct expository characterization via action and dialogue, all these indirect devices consistently build up the details of character and psychological make-up of John. Importantly, this character trait is developed not in vain–it in fact leads to John’s own doom.

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