Loved Ones, The (2009)
Starring Xavier Samuel, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine
Directed by Sean Byrne
Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is a charmer for horror fans, a charmingly revolting mash-up of Hostel and The People Under the Stairs with none of the former's glitzy nihilism and enough of the latter's goofy implausibility to create a harrowing, hilarious amalgam that'll entertain the hell out of you without making you feel bad about yourself as a person and your choice of entertainment.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a troubled high school student dealing with the loss of his father and his grieving mother. The afternoon prior to his high school prom, he encounters some trouble, and I know that is a terrible description, but so few horror films maintain the ability to surprise that I'm going to be extra careful to not ruin any of The Loved One's impressive ability to shock. Suffice it to say that it's an astoundingly deftly handled combination of light-hearted macabre humour and grisly, chilling violence.
It does what I'd thought impossible, really, in that it leavens the morbid, transgressive gore of films like À l'intérieur and the aforementioned Hostel with solid, character-based humour and, somehow, a spirit of good-heartedness. It's incredibly, astoundingly well-acted with a top-notch score and pretty good set design. It's also a masterclass in horror film editing: as a low-budget film, much of the emotional/psychological weight of the film has to be constructed with shot selection, pacing and cuts rather than effects or fancy impossible camerawork or incredibly expensive sets, and the cutting on The Loved Ones is top notch all the way, an absolute pleasure. To pick nits, it has a clunker of a sub-plot that does little more than function as comedic relief and release valve for the considerable tension that the main storyline builds, and its irrelevancy is distracting.
It's by far the maddest, best Midnight Madness film so far this year, and it's a shame it showed on Sunday to a 3/4-full house while the marginal Jennifer's Body and its crew of stars breezed in, opened the thing, and took off. The Loved Ones is a film that deserves to be seen, a genre freakout worthy of as much attention as it can get, which I hope is a lot. Truly enjoyable, truly independent, truly scary.
4 out of 5
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