Title: The Loved Ones
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy and Victoria Thaine
One trend that I’ve noticed with the Australian movies I’ve seen, which are typically horror movies, are that they emphasize the isolation of the environment and the movies all end up with a similar “gritty” feel to them. Whether it be “Wolf Creek” telling the story of the disappearance and murder of a group of backpackers, “The Clinic” giving expected mothers the opportunity to compete to the death in an industrial complex, or “Snowtown” dramatizing the “Australia’s worst serial killer”, who had claimed 11 victims. If these Australian horror movies are known to portray these wide open spaces and desolate landscapes, then what can we expect from “The Loved Ones”, a story about a boy from the suburbs who turns down a girl’s invitation to prom, to then capture him and have a prom of her own?
On a roadtrip with his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) is startled by someone in the middle of the road and covered in blood, causing him to veer off the road and into a tree, subsequently killing his father. Six months later, Brent is still dealing with the psychological trauma of inadvertently killing his father, despite the fact that it’s time for the “End of School Dance”. His friend is excited to finally have a girl accept an invitation to this dance, but Brent doesn’t have to worry because he’s going with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). This doesn’t prevent Lola (Robin McLeavy) from asking him to the dance anyway, which Brent politely declines. Through a love scene between Brent and Holly, we learn that one way Brent has been dealing with his depression over the loss of his father is through self-inflicted wounds, typically done by the razor blade he carries on a necklace. When Brent’s mother expresses her fear for Brent ever driving in a car again, Brent storms out of the house to be alone, but unfortunately when he is alone, that’s when we see someone drug him and throw him in the back of a truck. When he comes to, he is in a tuxedo, bound to a chair, and at a dinner table with Lola, her father (John Brumpton), and her “mother”. What follows is the subsequent torture of Brent, which include the rituals that could turn Brent into another member of Lola’s “Loved Ones’.
Congratulations, Australia, you managed to make yet another brutally violent, gritty movie! In the suburbs, no less! I don’t want to give away all the different violent experiences that Brent and other characters go through, but there are knives, drills, boiling water, bleach,and even some substance that, once injected into someone’s neck, prevents them from being able to scream. If violent torture movies are your thing, then this movie is highly recommended. With violent torture movies, you typically have to suspend some of your disbelief to enjoy them. Unfortunately, the intensity and severity of the violent acts are SO intense, that I could only suspend that disbelief for so long before I had to argue that there was no way the human body could endure so much physical torment that any of the characters could continue going about what they did. It’s a double-edged sword for the film, because those unique and gory sequences were one of the movies strengths, but they went so far that they ruined any sense of reality. And although the self-inflicted injuries element of the story seemed arbitrary at first, it heightened Brent’s tolerance for pain, making things more challenging for Lola, so that was a nice twist.
Robin McLeavy makes a great sociopath. The way she was able to switch from an innocent, almost nerdy girl who first approached Brent, to the torture obsessed personality of “Princess” who threatened to nail Brent’s penis to a chair if he didn’t urinate, to showcasing a few different types of uncomfortable love towards her father, McLeavy was a great choice for the villain. Brumpton was also a good choice for the father, finding that balance between a man willing to do anything to make his daughter happy, to always seeing his daughter as a little girl who could do no wrong, no matter how sick and twisted those things might be. Xavier Samuel was fine, but considering most of his lines were gutteral moans, there wasn’t really much for him to do. The supporting cast was fine as well, without anyone really standing out.
The reason I even mentioned Brent’s friend finding a date in the first place was because the movie keeps jumping back and forth between what’s happening to Brent, Holly and Brent’s mother’s search for Brent, and Brent’s friend going on a date with a “wild girl”. The comedic elements of Brent’s friend getting drunk and stoned with this girl took you out of the story a little bit, but when you realize that the girl he takes on a date has a personal connection to one of Lola’s previous “Loved Ones”, and the fact that her father is one of the police officers trying to find Brent, it makes a lot more sense. By the time you got towards the end of the movie, you have one of those “Oooooooh, NOW that makes sense” kind of moments, but I figured that should be noted ahead of time so that you didn’t react negatively to those scenes the way I did.
One of the reasons I love horror movies is that there are so many different ways to enjoy them. If you think about a drama, or maybe a romantic comedy, it has the same level of enjoyment if you see it in a theater or at home or with friends or completely alone. Horror movies, on the other hand, can be an incredibly fun time at the theater with tons of people, but were you to watch something like “The Loved Ones” at home and with no one around, it wouldn’t be as nearly an enjoyable experience. If you’re into a slightly different story to go along with your graphic violence than this one’s right up your alley, but don’t expect anything revolutionary. Also, bring some friends along so you can all shout and applaud at the absurdity of everything.
By Patrick Cavanaugh (Thewolfmancometh.com)