Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Xavier Samuel, Jessica McNamee, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Victoria Thane
Written and directed by Sean Byrne
Distributed by Optimum Releasing
Fledgling writer/director Sean Byrne takes us out for the prom night from hell in his new Aussie shocker, The Loved Ones. Xavier Samuel stars as Brent – a teenager left depressed and traumatised after losing his father in a car accident for which he blames himself, having swerved off the road to avoid a blood-caked teenager wandering on the asphalt.
Constantly struggling to control his demons, Brent is forced to watch his mother’s own emotional deterioration over the loss while fighting to keep his relationship with loving girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thane) alive. As prom night approaches, Brent is propositioned by the school’s resident mousy outsider, Lola (Robin McLeavy). Of course, he’s already going with Holly so has to decline despite the flattery.
In any other generic high school comedy or romance flick, Lola would turn out to be that special person who’s been unfairly ignored all this time. Instead, in Byrne’s world, Brent would have done well to get the hell out of town as she is, in fact, a raving psychopath rivaled only by her lunatic father (John Brumpton). Daddy will do anything to make sure his little princess is happy on her prom night, even going as far as kidnapping Brent and putting him through a night of horrific torture at the whim of Lola.
As the violence and suffering mounts up, it becomes apparent that Brent isn’t the disturbed duo’s first attempt at finding Lola a prince – and what happens to those who don’t meet the grade is more horrifying than anything he could ever have imagined.
It’s difficult to hold it in so I’ll just come right out and say it: The Loved Ones is magnificent. An original, twisted, modern horror masterpiece that skilfully puts the emotion back into scenes of graphic torture. It’s part John Hughes, part modern high-school comedy, part coming of age drama, part Texas Chainsaw and part Misery…with a dash of The People Under the Stairs for good measure. Byrne’s script is tight, smart, witty and profound – offering us a collection of fully rounded characters that you can’t help but root for (and hate!). While Samuel’s performance as Brent starts off on the annoyingly stereotypical emo side of things, you’ll quite quickly find yourself squarely on his side without even realising it. Similarly, the sheer depth of Lola’s psychosis is layered on little by little, like gradually sinking into a quagmire of madness. There are so many points in this film where you’ll find yourself wondering just what the hell the crazy duo are going to do next – your eyes glued to the screen with incredible magnetism – and gasping loudly as Brent suffers the worst night of his life. In the accompanying interviews on the disc, director Byrne mentions that the mantra of the film was “If you don’t care, you don’t scare” – and that’s exactly what he’s done: Formed real characters that you’ll care about, creating a pitch-perfect cinematic bond between the audience and the film, and succeeded wildly.
Despite the excellent script, The Loved Ones would never have been so successful without the cast. As mentioned, Xavier Samuel starts off rather unlikable but does an outstanding job as the story moves on, but the superlatively special mentions go to McLeavy and Brumpton as the psychotic family. Brumpton’s bug-eyed mania is a bubbling pool of unspeakable violence which threatens to erupt at any time – kept in check only by his warped observance of Lola’s teenage innocence and an overriding resolve to see to her every whim. McLeavy, as Lola, effortlessly manages to drag the film further and further into escalating levels of insanity – losing herself completely in the role and, in doing so, creating a disturbingly convincing and utterly bat-shit insane antagonist. Considering she took the role simply because she figured she’d give horror movies a shot, McLeavy is, quite simply, a revelation. It’s the kind of performance, and script, which has the audience breaking into applause when she receives her inevitable just desserts. I think we all know how good that feels.
In terms of gore, there’s ample red stuff flung around, but The Loved Ones is never gratuitous. We have bodily mutilation, knives through feet, brutal stabbings, cannibalism and a particular type of fate that will have you curling your toes just thinking about it. In fact, even the sound effects at times are so effective they almost made this jaded viewer queasy.
The sustained horror of Brent’s situation is intercut with a couple of other teenagers having their own eventful prom night full of booze, drugs and sex. This subplot offers up the more standard teen comedy angle in which the film finds its roots, but while it is indeed funny (and a welcome diversion), it never really ties in fully with the rest of the flick. Considering how fantastic everything is in general, it’s easy to forgive but nags on the mind nonetheless as more effort really should have gone into organically crossing the night’s events.
This UK Blu-ray release from Optimum gives the film the visual and audio treatment it really deserves. The bright costumes, glittering set design and disco-ball theme of Lola’s party almost jump from the screen with external shots and actors’ close-ups sporting an excellent amount of fine detail and texturing. The lossless audio track is wonderful – and while I would LOVE to go into detail on the sound effects…well…you’ll figure out just how effective it is when you reach “that” scene.
On the special features front, the film is let down immeasurably. Around 90 seconds of B-roll footage from the set proves a next to useless addition while a few incredibly short interviews with cast and crew offer an endearing insight into the actors (and serves to reinforce just how damned talented they all are) but are so short it’s almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair. This is severely disappointing, but still – The Loved Ones is a film that needs to be in your collection. It needs to be seen by every horror fan out there who is crying out for a well made, original and effective horror film. I just don’t know how I can express that enough.
4 1/2 out of 5
1 out of 5