The Loved Ones 2009 Dir. Sean Byrne
I should mention that even as a fan of horror, I’m not usually attracted to the torture/gore sub genre. I prefer the psychological or supernatural to watching a group of innocents being mentally and physically pulled apart. However, there are films in this line with such purpose and style, that it becomes difficult to deny their brilliance. Such films include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Devil’s Rejects and The Loved Ones.
If you mix “Misery” with “Carrie” and add a twist of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you get The Loved Ones. This Australian film follows a troubled young man named Brent, who turns the wrong girl down for the school dance, and ends up getting kidnapped and tortured by a father and daughter amidst a homemade high school prom.
There is of course more going on in this film than that in subtext, subplot and side stories, craft engaging characters and moments, that carry you through some of the more harrowing sequences. Attachment to the main character of Brent (Xavier Samuel) is established in the opening scene, as Brent’s father gives his son a driving lesson. The two are having a wonderful time and as Brent nervously attempt to concentrate, a bloody human shape appears in the middle of the road. This causes Brent to swerve, hitting a tree. This accident kills Brent’s father, and both he and his mother struggle with this loss. Brent deals with this tragedy with smoking pot and fantasies of suicide. However, when Brent is kidnapped, we learn how serious he is about wanting to leave this world.
In the secluded house of Lola (Robin McLeavy), her father (John Brumpton) and what we can only assume is her her catatonic mother (Anne Scott-Pendlebury), Brent is put through a series of awful tests including being made to urinate on command for fear that he’ll get his member nailed to his chair…for starters. This film is grotesque in its torture scenes, but they serve a real purpose and unlike most films of this kind, are broken up with moments of humor or drama away from the central action. This does break the tension, which would ordinarily be a bad thing with films of this kind. However, lingering too long on a violent scene can alienate your audience, and I think the filmmaker knew this. We see Brent’s friend on an awkward date with a goth girl, we also see Brent’s mother and girlfriend conscripting a local policeman to help find the young man. These scenes are spaced out nicely and actually provide both tension and the breaking up of tension, complimenting the main storyline.
I also can’t discuss this film without discussing its use of the acoustic pop song “Am I Not Pretty Enough” by Kasey Chambers. This song is Lola’s anthem, giving the song and the film a sinister mix of teen heartbreak and the murderous delusion. If you ever hear this song on the radio again, you find yourself thinking of a makeshift prom and home spun lobotomies.
Lola and her father steal the film, however, oscillating between incestuous, saccharin and ragingly violent. The scenes with these characters aren’t as brutally unwatchable as the dinner sequence in the TCM but they are over the top uncomfortable. You will find yourself laughing at how uncomfortable they are and if you think you have an idea of what twists may lay in store, I can assure you, you do not.
The Loved Ones is an inventive and engaging film in a sub genre of horror often given to hollow repetition. There are real characters to care about and real antagonists to be afraid of. There are bends in the story, and enough intricate plot threads that you’ll find yourself thinking about the film long after it’s over.