The Hounds sounds like something out of a creature-feature; it also brings to mind Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. But this English indie picture isn't of either mindset, and it actually tends more towards psychological horror than anything else. The film also mixes doppelganger syndrome into its plot, as well as hinting at a sinister organization that reminds of the Elite Hunting company from Hostel.
Suffice to say that The Hounds is ambitious in its approach; indie films generally tend to stay towards the less complicated end of the spectrum storywise, either because of lack of experience or a meager budget. Yet The Hounds' story is fairly elaborate, and also dream-like in its use of hallucinations. The film begins with a group of friends who want to go on a camping trip after they meet up for beers. They used to go when they were younger, but it appears life has gotten in the way of their fun times; they arrange to head out the next day for a little fun in the woods, at a secret spot they're all familiar with. At the same time, the film cuts to a parallel story about a couple of undercover detectives sniffing out some bad guys - through much of the film, it's not exactly clear what they're looking for, but it eventually comes together.
The Hounds has a tough time getting on its feet in its first act - the first half hour is particularly slow, plagued by lengthy dialogue about nothing and scenes of movement, either in the car while driving or walking through the woods. The movie struggles to find its pace, and the viewer is left to wade through bits of small talk until the plot begins to open up.
It doesn't help matters that the acting is only mediocre, at times sub-par. Paul Tonkin and John Doughty aren't too bad, but David Drew and Maddie Moate don't click well. The two are meant to be a couple, but a couple of excruciating scenes kills the mood - and Moate's character Sarah grates on the nerves because of her weaknesses. She's also not very convincing in her role as the dark Sarah; there's a moment that seems right out of The Evil Dead when evil Sarah is shown growling and biting at the camera, but it feels more laughable than even that original movie.
The second act, however, recovers from the stagnation. The group uncover a body at their camp site, and they begin to ponder who could have done such a thing - and they also wonder if it could be a coincidence that they would find it during their camping trip. The Hounds gets somewhat eerie here; just thinking about a dead body buried next to my tent in the middle of nowhere gives me the willies, and there are moments where the film makes good use of that setup. But things begin to go awry once the ambitions of the film are made clear.
Killer doppelgangers come into play; the body is not just some random stranger but Martin's evil alterego. It turns out there are more as well, and they're interested in stealing the organs of their twins. Gruesome surgeries are done by hand, and puddles of blood are found on the wooded trails. On the other side of the coin is the detective's recon of the bad guys, but this doesn't have nearly the amount of substance.
That's because The Hounds has trouble figuring out how to mix the two ideas together. At first, the two plots are evenly distributed: we spend some time with the campers, then we meet up with the detectives. As the story in the woods gets more invested, though, the detective story kind of drops out until the very end, when things are tied up nice and neatly with a form of deus ex machina that, while not entirely expected, isn't truly original either. It's a clever twist from the film, and yet when one stops to think about the real meaning behind the metaphor, it's difficult to defend. The metaphor doesn't match the events, and that's about all I can say without spoiling the ending.
The Hounds is daring, but that alone doesn't make it a great film. Its plot is appropriately complex, and some scenes are shot with excellent camerawork. Still, the clumsy way the film comes together, and the poor pacing, make the film tough to sit through in parts. And the subpar acting might have you howling along with The Hounds for the wrong reasons.