It was just another quiet Tuesday when I threw in my screener for The Hounds, a British film about a group of friends who decide to go on a camping trip only to have their week-end turn into a thing of nightmares. I had not heard of the film prior to it being graciously delivered to my mailbox. I did not know of writer/director Maurizio del Piccolo. I had not heard of the actors Maddie Moate, David Drew, Paul Tonkin and John Doughty who play leads Sarah, Jake, Dave and Martin, respectively. And most importantly, I had not heard of the film that Roberto del Piccolo was so anxious for me to screen.
But after 90-minutes of watching a film that challenged the genre conventions, I was happy that I made their acquaintance and I will surely remember their names going forward.
The Hounds starts slowly in weaving its clever storyline. We meet Sarah, Jake, Dave and Martin at a local pub and we listen in on trivial conversation that ends with them deciding to go camping on the weekend. Meanwhile, we also get introduced to Mike (Andy Callaghan) a police officer that is investigating a particular case that one can interpret as having something to do with the four friends.
As the story focuses more on the camping expedition, we never lose sight of Mike’s plotline and I would challenge even the most versed of film screeners to prematurely conclude how the two stories will eventually intersect.
Sarah, Jake and Dave meantime, have found their spot amongst the densely forested area. After pitching their tents and getting comfortable, they make the grisly discovery of a body covered in the ground. The body appears to have a plastic bag over its face and is clearly fresh in terms of its lack of decomposition. It is after they react to this discovery that things really begin to take us down the rabbit hole.
The body they found is in fact alive and it attacks Sarah in a way that was both interesting but perplexing at the same time. Jake and Dave quickly spring into action to save young Sarah from bleeding to death, but then the attacker strikes again, this time inflicting pain and dismemberment to Sarah’s boyfriend, Jake.
The attack on Jake left us with even more questions that the assault on Sarah and The Hounds then straps its audience in for a thrill ride that had us trying to piece together a film that had had us thinking a bit of Evil Dead inspiration was at play.
But we were wrong. Director Maurizio del Piccolo confidently sticks to his own script and keeps building tension while further confusing and complicating the perils of each of the leads. It is only in the film’s concluding chapters does the reality emerge and a logical explanation punctures through the thick atmosphere of all the horror.
There are so many details and plot points handled with precision that it is hard to know where to start in our lauding of the film. The characters are as developed as any in the horror/thriller genre and we spend a good deal of time getting to know our fated leads prior to the unfolding events that will forever shape their lives. Each of the five actors that chew scenery are brilliantly cast and confidently handle the del Piccolo script with veteran effortlessness. And the ending – although not a Sixth Sense type of reveal – was still shocking and inventive enough to have our shake our heads while we put the missing pieces of the story together in our thoroughly jigsaw-shuffled mind.
All the above made The Hounds one of the best independent films we have received this year and can sit alongside David A. Cross’ Respire as a hidden gem worth finding.