‘Hounds’ Review: A Kidnapping Job Goes Awry in a Lively Moroccan Debut

On the imply streets of Casablanca dartingly navigated in “Hounds,” all life is proven to be casually disposable; an precise human physique, nonetheless, is one other matter. Taking place over one sleepless evening of mounting misfortune within the Moroccan metropolis, writer-director Kamal Lazraq’s first characteristic is a trim, unsparing crime story that pits social desperation in opposition to a nagging non secular conscience. Its gig-economy gangsters could observe virtually any grisly orders for a fast buck, however are equally certain to Muslim creeds and customs, glumly shrugging off any disparity between these two authorities.

Following an impoverished father-son duo as an ostensibly rote legal errand goes bloodily awry, the movie is briskly informed and humidly atmospheric, although somewhat tonal variation wouldn’t have gone amiss amid an overriding air of hardscrabble, stomach-knotted discomfort. As its central disaster deepens and darkens, Lazraq’s script retains teasing a gear-shift into mordant farce to which it by no means fairly commits, leaving each the characters and the drama a bit stymied. Still, it is a notably punchy debut, each visceral and confidently cavalier in its depiction of on a regular basis underworld brutality, with a pointy, streetlit sense of place — and simply sufficient genre-film vigor to hook distributor curiosity after its Un Certain Regard premiere at Cannes.

It isn’t any slight on the convincingly ragged, on-edge performances of the ensemble to say it’s instantly obvious that Lazraq and his casting director Amine Louadni have stuffed many of the roles with nonprofessionals: “Hounds” is wealthy in weathered, storied faces of the sort not sometimes discovered by the dozen in appearing colleges. Angular and twitchily expressive, main man Abdellatif Masstouri was working as a street-food vendor when approached for the position of Hassan, a middle-aged, unemployed ne’er-do-well who can unwell afford ethical qualms when taking up soiled work for native crime lords. In this case it’s Dib (a really menacing Abdellah Lebkiri, one of many few professionals within the forged), a dog-fighting kingpin left with a rating to settle after the gnarly, gnashing canine showdown that opens the movie leaves his prize mutt lifeless.

Enlisted by Dib to kidnap and ship the rival proprietor to him, Hassan in flip commissions his son Issam (Ayoub Elaïd) to help. A wily, cautious younger man with better road smarts than his extra suggestible father, Issam is reluctant, however compelled by filial loyalty to tag alongside. His misgivings start when the automotive they’re to make use of for the mission turns up: Red is a bad-luck colour, he insists, and the following occasions, marked by pink in a wide range of methods, recommend he may be proper. The pair handle to abduct and truss up their quarry, although with extra violence on Hassan’s half than is strictly vital; when the unlucky man promptly dies within the trunk of the automotive, it’s left to them to eliminate the physique by morning.

That’s extra simply stated than achieved in a metropolis the place even wastelands warrant turf wars: What follows is a panicked after-hours odyssey by means of a dirty assortment of junkyards, boatyards, backyards and deserted gasoline stations, whereas their efforts to search out the sufferer a suitably discreet resting place are additional addled by engine bother, police interference and additional gang politics. A extra fascinating impediment is that of Hassan’s personal sense of spiritual obligation, as he insists, to Issam’s exasperation, that the physique be washed and shrouded in accordance with Islamic custom earlier than they dump it: a single shred of dignity the place none else survives. This shot of purism amid spiraling human corruption is each poignant and perversely comedian; later, a bungled try at a sea burial approaches real hilarity.

Such tonal diversions are all the time pulled again, nonetheless, to a default state of clenched, brooding risk. That’s current as a lot within the leads’ terse, fractious interaction as within the queasily handheld, sparsely illuminated lensing by Amine Berrada (additionally an asset to this yr’s Cannes Competition entry “Banel & Adama”), who picks out the actors’ options from enveloping swimming pools of shadow, sporadically highlighting them in saturated shades of flesh and blood earlier than they soften again into darkness.

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