The Loved Ones – Review


And you thought your prom was torture

A special appreciation for Australian cinema can be ascertained by plopping yourself in a chair with your favorite snacks and having a six-film marathon session with the films from down under. Or you could do the Cliff’s Notes version and watch Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary that chronicles the continent’s rise as a supplier of genre-centric films in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The Loved Ones, a great horror gem from Australia, is again proof that genre specific titles from the land of “Gooday” are still alive and well. Originally released in its native land back in 2010, it is now reaching American theatres courtesy of a partnership between Paramount Pictures (who purchased the domestic rights) and Tugg, the web-based outfit that allows a person or group to program what plays at your local theater, all dependent upon if there’s enough interest in the form of tickets sold.

Having been fortunate enough to see this during South by Southwest in 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to see again in Houston, one of the six cities across the country that played the horror release on June 1st at 11:59 p.m. While it may have taken its time to get into theaters, the payoff is worth it. With school releasing and summer loving in the air, what better way to compel such lustful urges with a cautionary tale about teenage rejection?

One critic blurb described it as “Sixteen Candles meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Wrong John Hughes movie there, buddy. The Hughes movie worthy of meeting a screwed up family of some stretch of backwoods outback is Pretty in Pink. Just picture Andrew McCarthy spurning Molly Ringwald’s advances only to have Harry Dean Stanton kidnap him so that he may be taught a lesson.

The subject matter of The Loved Ones is vicious, which will draw the ire of those writing it off as another torture porn entry. But unlike Hostel or Saw (or even the Aussie release Wolf Creek), The Loved Ones has a good level of suspense – where the audience is allowed to unspool the situation and jolt when things get hairy – to go along with steady direction and good performances from the jilted teenage girl and the beau that will be hers no matter what.

The horror genre has its legion of fans, but highlights of the genre vary in degree and overall gore-to-gag ratio. So the fact that this is a gem because of its filmmaking acumen and not necessarily its level of gore is a plus. But don’t think The Loved Ones will suddenly change the feelings of someone who would rather laugh than shriek. However, those who like nightmares or a little hell raising, will walk away satisfied from an entry where revenge is a dish best served while wearing a hot pink dress.

At the movie’s onset, teen Brent (Xavier Samuel) is involved in a car accident that kills his passenger father. Having contemplated suicide to put him out of his misery, he finds solace with girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). Both are anticipating their upcoming prom, but neither would make it to school that night. Hours before the prom Brent is abducted by a mysterious man known only as “Daddy” (John Brumpton).  Brought out of his comatose stooper after nightfall reveals a chair-tied Brent inside a ramshackle home that Daddy shares with Lola (Robin McLeavy), his capricious daughter and one of Brent’s classmates at school. With a chemical concoction used to paralyze his vocal cords, Brent is powerless to the spectacle in front of him: a household prom for Lola with a spread consisting of a mirrored ball, party horn blowers and fried chicken. Vegemite sandwiches were not on the menu.

The problem with this setup is that Lola can’t have the prerequisite king and queen dance. That’s okay, because soon enough this house prom becomes a house of horror with Brent attempting to make an escape back home to his mother and Holly, and far away from Lunatic Lola and Daddy Drearest.

The Loved Ones is an interesting blend of macabre and revenge. To see the mousy Lola go from timid to hell in hot pink is sure to appeal to any adolescent girl that has had her affections turned away by the opposite sex. And with a father condoning her behavior, holding true to the Veruca Salt paradigm of making sure she has everything she wants, the depths of their depravity is boundless, unlike young Brent.

Missing some of the plot when I originally watched it at a midnight showing back at SXSW – okay, I fell asleep in parts (this was like my fifth or sixth movie that day, back off) – this time the picture was complete, even the little problems I had with a sub-story involving Brent’s friend, Jamie (Richard Wilson), and his attempts to get laid on prom night with Mia (Jessica McNamee), a Goth girl who may look strange but is more saintly – pot smoking and backseat sex notwithstanding – than Lola.

Clocking in at a slim 77 minutes, writer-director Sean Byrne infuses the story with enough characterization to make this horror entry be more than just another Dead Teenager Movie. Brent is presented as a conflicted teenage youth with a death wish only to see that struggle within himself become a fight for survival versus the girl he dismissed when asked to be her prom date. As for Lola, her layers of inspect is deeply masked by her general feeling of madness, nurtured by a father whose complete devotion reaches an almost incestual level.

The Loved Ones is a small horror movie that sneaks up on you because of Byrne’s decision to cut away from the more torturous images allowing you to refocus your eyes to the aftermath. And it is quite a break from norm to have a villain you empathize with, if just a little bit. To see McLeavy own her role as the mentally unstable prom queen that becomes a volcanic eruption of rage when all she wanted to do was hold hands and maybe go to first base is a sight to behold.

So if you are down for a twisted viewing experience do yourself a favor and check out this cautionary tale of rejection and its repercussions.

Writer-Director: Sean Byrne
Notable Cast: Robin McLeavy, Xavier Samuel, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Jessica McNamee

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