Hounddog first attracted acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, as the movie in which a 12-year-old Dakota Fanning is raped. Nearly 20 months later, it’s finally seeing a theatrical release, with plenty of evidence as to the cause of its lengthy delay.
An amorphous blob of clichéd Southern gothic, where thunderstorms rumble portentously and there’s seemingly only one or two pairs of shoes in the entire town, Hounddog is a pretentious, mildly terrible period piece drama of random, falsely weighted dramatic signifiers and vaguely defined personal triumph — the type of movie where air-quote catharsis is achieved by someone screaming, “Leave me alone, I hate you!” several times at another person before finally collapsing into their arms.
Written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier — who previously mined some of the same loosely related thematic territory with Virgin, about a pregnant teenager who has no memory of ever having sex, and is thus convinced she’s carrying the son of God — Hounddog unfolds in rural Alabama in the 1950s. Young Lewellen (Fanning) lives with her stern, religious grandmother, Grammie (Piper Laurie, spinning a warmed-over variation of the same stiflingly overhearing nut-job that she delivered 30 years ago in Carrie), just up the hill from her no-account father (David Morse), a heavy drinker prone to disappearing for stretches of a couple days at a time and bringing home strange women, like one played by Robin Wright Penn.
Lewellen loves Elvis (not Schmelvis), and when she finds out he’s scheduled to make a stop in her small town, she makes plans to try to get a ticket to attend, along with her friend Buddy (Cody Hanford). After the aforementioned rape, by an older boy dangling the promise of an Elvis ticket, nearby neighbor Charles (Afemo Omilami, suffering the screen caricature of the “mystical Negro”) tries to help Lewellen get her spirit back by teaching her to tap into the blues. There are also a few obligatory third act revelations regarding a tangled family lineage, but they hold much more shrug than pop.
Hounddog is rather gorgeously shot (cinematographers Ed Lachman and Jim Denault share credit), but the film’s mossy beauty soon wears thin — done in by characters that are defined broadly, by race, socioeconomic class, terrible wig, or some combination thereof. For the full review, from H Magazine, click here. (Empire Film Group, R, 98 minutes)