The Loved Ones (2009)

A year on from the tragic loss of his father–who was killed in a car accident caused by the sudden appearance of a mysterious, bloodied man–troubled teenager Brent (Xavier Samuel) and best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) are preparing for their high school ball. When Brent turns down an offer from the unassuming Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) in order to attend with his girlfriend (Victoria Thaine), however, he inadvertently seals his fate, waking up tied to a chair in the girl’s home where he is crowned king of a private prom that Lola is being thrown by her father (John Brumpton). After all, who needs punch when you have power tools?

Just before the torture porn sub-genre fell into decline with the conclusion of its flagship Saw franchise back in 2010, a small Australian production débuted on DVD to little fanfare or fuss of any kind. Written and directed by newcomer Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones sought to play the increasingly well-worn set-up for laughs–of the deepest, blackest variety–as it trades in the brutal businessmen of Hostel for a psychotic little princess determined to trap a date for her prom. Disarmingly straightforward and ferociously funny, this is one of the more entertaining entries in the genre, playing off its similarities to the likes of Rob Reiner’s Misery to g(l)orious effect.

With The Twilight Saga: Eclipse‘s Xavier Samuel retrofitting proceedings with some much-needed star wattage, The Loved Ones is a film otherwise stocked to the rafters with unknowns. Both confident and captivating, however, it is difficult to imagine their anonymity lasting that much longer. Samuel is superb as the luckless Brent: our tragic hero who, thanks to a shot of relaxant to the voice box, is (somewhat bafflingly) left to spend most of the movie rasping in silence. Never quiet for long, he instead utilises an arsenal of twitches and grimaces to convey the shock, fear and pain that he is subjected to by Lola and her doting father.

While you feel enough sympathy for Brent to set him apart from just about every other scream king that was ever tied to a chair, it is Lola to whom you will be permanently enthralled. A terrifying creation, the script calls for a sadistic teeny-bopper where convention might have cast the pot-smoking, head-banging goths populating the film’s numerous supporting roles. A spiked ball of energy, she attacks the role with verve and relish, turning a rather stock character into someone – something – utterly compelling, particularly in the uncomfortably incestuous scenes she shares with John Brumpton’s fawning father.

This central struggle is contrasted with the sleepy suburbia from which the characters derive. While Jamie and prom-date Mia’s (Jessica McNamee) awkward romance is left to simmer on the back-burner, a number of narrative threads are hinted at throughout, though never laboured upon, creating a depth of character and story that you might not expect from what is ostensibly a crowd-pleasing gore-fest. Byrne laces his screenplay with great loss and hurt, from Brent’s self-harming, pseudo-suicidal tendencies to Mia’s apparently apathetic attempts to cope with the unexplained disappearance of her brother.

That said, it’s ultimately the film’s creepily cartoonish stylings and discordant soundtrack that provide The Lovely Ones with such a solid identity. Strong cinematography that makes the most of the Australian scenery–milking it for solitude while never downplaying the natural beauty of the landscape–serves to exaggerate the otherwise modest budget. With a perfect ear for delightfully inappropriate music (it’s difficult to believe that Kasey Chambers’ “Not Pretty Enough” was envisioned as anything other than a soundtrack to torture and abuse) the director brings a whole new dimension to the movie, a hauntingly heightened atmosphere that only adds to the horror and fun.

While the somewhat anciliory subplots might seem superfluous at the time, they are essential for moderating the pace and ensuring that Brent’s ordeal doesn’t peak prematurely, though admittedly they could have been better married to the main narrative. Tough, taut and exquisitely entertaining, Byrne’s film is a surprisingly refreshing take on a story we have become over-familiar with in recent years. As brutal as it is utterly brilliant, The Loved Ones really is a cult classic just waiting to be discovered.


About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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