REVIEW: The Loved Ones [2010]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 84 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2010 (Australia)
Studio: Madman Entertainment / Insurge Pictures
Director(s): Sean Byrne
Writer(s): Sean Byrne

“I’m ready to draw on him now”

Writer/director Sean Byrne is one Australian unafraid to go for broke. Had his horror film The Loved Ones been made in America, I can think of multiple instances of places where things would have been toned down or stopped altogether. There must have been something every five minutes or so after the halfway point that made me think, “okay, this is where the victim gets saved”. And then out comes a knife in the foot, a drillbit to the skull, and how about some cannibalistic captives gnawing on the carcass of roadkill acquired on the way home? Check, check, and check. But through it all, you can’t deny the strength and consistency of what Byrne is doing. There are genuine laughs right before scenes that admittedly even I had to cringe a little from discomfort and empathy towards the poor soul being abused onscreen. It’s truly a solid piece of cinema to keep you entertained without becoming either too campy or serious. Don’t get me wrong, it’s campy, but somehow it still leaves an unshakable impression.

One can bring in comparisons to Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s inbreeding, Carrie’s demonic prom, or even The Descent’s nocturnal, evolutionary mistakes; The Loved Ones is a kind of pastiche of them all while remaining uniquely its own creature. Three families become intertwined within the opening sequence—a wonderful use of music to set the tone with heavy metal screaming before segueing into Little River Band’s Lonesome Loser as the lead’s father sings along—where Brent (Xavier Samuel) is driving his Dad home, soon approaching a naked figure in the middle of the road with carvings on his chest. They swerve, eventually crashing into a tree, the father killed. A foreboding ‘Six Months Later’ title card then darkens the screen, setting the stage for what’s to come. We know this prologue will somehow be important, we just won’t know how or why until later. Instead we see Brent and best bud Jamie (Richard Wilson) in school readying for the night’s prom.

The mousey Lola (Robin McLeavy) enters, asking Brent to be her date, forlorn when he explains he’s already attending with Holly (Victoria Thaine), his girlfriend. It’s your usual high school puppy love shot down as quickly as it entered the world; we forget about it as Jamie gets psyched to have goth extraordinaire Mia (Jessica McNamee) on his arm and Brent consummates his love for Holly in her car. Emotional turmoil seeps in with memories flashing to the father who died at his hands, the boy no longer allowed to drive because his mother fears she’ll lose him too. So there is definite tension between them when all Brent wants is to be shown he isn’t blamed for the tragedy, a little peace and faith would go a long way towards him healing from his own heavy guilt. Needing to cool off and get away from his mother before Holly came back at 7, the troubled youth—a razor blade hangs from a chain on his neck and cut marks are visible on his body—takes his dog and runs to a local cliff face, climbing up without regard for his safety, hand punctured by a new blade wound, music blaring in his ear drums.

And then he’s taken. The film is less than 90 minutes and thus moves along at a quick clip, never bogging down in superfluous nonsense, but latches onto the details that matter. Brent has gone missing before in the past six months, but the fact his dog returns home beaten and bloody, the local sheriff—coincidentally Mia’s father and a man who’s own son went missing—takes it seriously. Holly tries to keep her boyfriend’s mother calm by staying with her, all the while the dance continues on, unknowing of what has happened. Jamie is trying hard to be cool enough for Mia, making way for one of the funniest laughs as Wilson attempts a hood slide to open her door, but she is self-destructive, wanting drugs, sex, and whatever else in full view of the student body and faculty. The simple fact we as an audience experience any of this is lost on us at first, but once the darker secrets about Lola are unearthed, we realize nothing we see is on accident.

The title, The Loved Ones, does not have anything to do with the kids we see, on the contrary, it’s about those we don’t. McLeavy is frighteningly sinister in her girly high-pitched voice—Daddy’s (John Brumpton) little princess—turning to a malicious bark when ignored. Every boy who ever had to turn a girl down for a date will rejoice theirs wasn’t a sociopath waiting to make you her prince, her father the obedient muscle to keep you subdued. Kasey Chambers’s Not Pretty Enough becomes Lola’s theme song; it’s lyrics uncannily perfect for the monster she is revealed as. The private party at her home becomes the true setting of the film, blood and pain writhing as each frame passes, Samuel’s Brent becoming more and more dirty from his own bodily fluids. But it’s not all laughs and teenage angst once pedophilic undertones are introduced, homestyle lobotomies are performed, and violent act upon violent act is committed with a jubilant smile wanting more. You’ll be shocked and surprised by how dark Byrne takes you into their hell. I may have constantly wondered when the hero would be saved, but in truth enjoyed every minute of his suffering, secretly hoping he’d become just another statistic.

[1] Robin McLeavy stars as Lola ‘Princess’ in Paramount Insurge Pictures’ The Loved Ones (2012)
[2] Xavier Samuel stars as Brent, John Brumpton as Daddy, and Robin McLeavy as Lola ‘Princess’ in Paramount Insurge Pictures’ The Loved Ones (2012)
[3] Jessica McNamee stars as Mia and Richard Wilson stars as Jamie in Paramount Insurge Pictures’ The Loved Ones (2012)

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