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Simon Read [Celluloid 09.24.09] Australia movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: Sean Byrne
Writers: Sean Byrne
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

The Loved Ones is a very good horror film with only a few minor flaws. It's certainly one of the most original and tightly directed, explicit and gore fueled movies to emerge from Australia in some years. Set in the countryside and with a small cast of key characters, the film begins with a car-crash in which our teenage hero, Brent, swerves off the road to avoid an injured figure, smashing into a tree and killing his father who was a passenger. Fast-forward six months and Brent is coping through frequent use of marijuana and with the support of his well intentioned girlfriend, Holly.

It's the night of the end of school dance and a shy but pretty wallflower called Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks Brent (Xavier Samuel) if he'll take her to the dance. Poor Brent seems a little confused and apologies, explaining that he's taking Holly, to which Lola offers an understanding smile. Brent heads off hiking with his dog, stopping off for a quick smoke, all the better to enjoy the scenery and some peace and quiet, when he's suddenly chloroformed and dragged into a truck by a mysterious man. Meanwhile, the local pot-smoking geek, Sac (Richard Wilson), has scored big-time in getting hot goth chick Mia (Jessica McNamee) to come to the dance with him. He picks her up after a hurried joint and they pose for family photos as Mia's cop father holds back the eager sniffer dog who smells Sac's stash. Holly goes looking for Brent after he fails to show-up for their rendezvous, as Brent's anxious mother fears the worst and begins to panic.

Lola sits in her bedroom, playing with a scrap-book. Her father brings in a pink prom-dress and she's delighted, immediately stripping-off and trying it on for his admiring eyes. The two head into the kitchen where, lo-and-behold, Brent is tied to a chair, unconscious. What follows is a grizzly routine of torture and brutality against the young man, as we play witness to Lola's utter insanity and her fathers complicity. It seems Lola's got a case of little-miss-princess, mixed with some psychotic urges and relationship issues, and she's taking it all out on Brent as the crazy family enjoy their own special end of school party. Brent's subjected to some of the most unflinching violence I've seen in a while, as the power tools come out to play and nothing's above board. Let's just say that fans of Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer will be satiated, if not turned-on.

This is where my problem with the film arises. Violence for the sake of it isn't something I'm a huge fan of. I don't think that The Loved Ones quite earns it's use of such completely unpleasant scenes, given that we're following a side story about Sac and Mia, who sit around in Sac's car smoking weed, cheerfully swigging vodka and making-out, as well as watching Brent's mother and girlfriend pacing around the house worrying, it's a more than a little jarring with massive shifts in tone throughout the middle act. While the set-up is fairly conventional and the last act absolutely insane, the middle section seems to switch between the goofy comedy of the stoner double-act, the moody paranoia of Brent's concerned family, and the horrific images created in Lola's torturing methods. Even more out of place is the fact that Sac and Mia's date isn't part of the kidnapping story, they just get blitzed on pot and booze, have a brief sex scene, and then head home to disapproving parents and inevitable hangovers. I was all set for them to drunkenly stumble upon Lola's party and maybe try to save Brent, but in a strange turn, it's not followed-up (although I have to admit there is a subtle link between Mia, Lola and Brent, but it's not dwelled-on).

These are the minor flaws, and now that they're out of the way I can assure that all is forgiven with the last act. Perhaps it works as a reward for sitting through the torture (although I still question whether the ends justify the means), but once things get going and the action starts, the film proves itself as immensely enjoyable, with jaw dropping twists and suspense, as well as a savage sense of humour that's got horror audiences applauding and clawing their eyes out for more. The Loved Ones is definitely one for the movie theatre and I can see why the buzz is about for this flick, in fact I wish I'd seen it in a cinema as I imagine the shared euphoria would be worth ticket price, and I largely put my niggles down to watching the film alone on a laptop in my bedroom, instead of sitting amongst horror fans and listening to the screams and laughs. Notable scenes involve really clever sight-gags, as certain characters meet their demise and the violence turns from agonizing into amusing, the viewer gets to cheer as the tables turn and unexpected characters pop-up (only to be taken-out). Lola sits next to Brent with her scrap-book and we see that it's made-up of missing-persons reports of all her previous victims, all young men who've disappeared over the years. She's marked personality traits and regales Brent with anecdotes; "He cried like a sissy... him, he was boring..." The film absolutely belongs to Robin McLeavy, who makes the character of Lola one of the most memorable psychos in a while. More than any of the other characters I believed her conviction and when she's got Brent trapped once again towards the end and tells him matter-of-factly that she's going now to kill Holly, and to kill his mother, I believed her. There's also repeated use of a song called, 'Was I Not Pretty Enough?' which is one of the most deliberately girly, post-grunge femme-rock ballads I've ever heard, and is of course Lola's favourite song which she wants played at her wedding. It's a very fitting song, and watching Lola and her father slow-dancing under a disco-ball, while Brent tries to wrestle free from his bonds, is a powerful and creepy image.

I stand by what I've said though. As crazy and enjoyable as the film becomes towards the end, getting there is an uphill struggle for the viewer. Convention runs act 1, wince inducing torture punctuates act 2, and balls-out imagination, violence and insanity rule act 3. Like I say though, well worth the price of a ticket.

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Hal (12 years ago) Reply

Hey ProjectC thanks for the review. I see see what you mean about the tone shifts, but I quite like that aspect myself :) I liked the contrast between the violent insanity of Lola's love/loved ones, and then the dysfunctional love of Goth chick

I totally agree with you that Robin McCleavy was a brilliant psycho


B Davies (12 years ago) Reply

sort of agree here, i liked the breaks to comedy as there was a real comparison between what the two friends were going through at the same time, i think the pacing is awesome and the acting is phenomenal, Holly (Victoria Thaine) provided the biggest YES for me with the awesome ending, shes a beautiful Aussie one to watch, and absolutely Robin Mcleavy owns the film!

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