Some folks may think The Loved Ones is too new a film to place on the list of my favourite Cult films of all time, but the truth is The Loved Ones really does have a cult following – sadly for some rather unfortunate circumstances. The winner of the first ever Midnight Madness Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, it never found a distribution deal, even two years after its world premiere. There are rumours as to why this is the case, but that is not important. What is important is to know that The Loved Ones is one of the best horror films of the last decade. Lucky for me I had the chance to catch the film three times (twice at TIFF, and once at Fantasia), but until some deal is reached, I’m sure other cinephiles will explore various options in acquiring a copy. Here is my original review from the world premiere at TIFF.
Sean Byrne’s debut feature, The Loved Ones is a unique mix of teen angst, torture porn, melodrama and the conventional slasher tropes. It’s a gore-filled shocker that goes for laughs by paying homage to the outlandish low-budget video nasties of the ’70s and ’80s, blending together Misery, Saw, Prom Night, The Evil Dead and Carrie.
Director Sean Byrne who made several shorts prior, is another example of the talent emerging in the horror scene down under. This Australian feature is dark, intense, sharp and extremely gruesome, yet Byrne encourages the audience to laugh along cutting back between comedic moments and plenty of jolts, gasps, and real shocks. The balance of humour and horror is scaled so perfectly that the scares sneak up when least expected.
With prom night about to take place, teenagers scramble to find a last-minute date. Young, good-looking, rebellious teen Brent (Xavier Samuel) has his date all planned out with the beautiful and vibrant Holly (Victoria Thaine). Brent finds himself turning down offers from several girls, including the school recluse Lola (Robin Mcleavy), only what he doesn’t know is that the quietest girl in school is also the craziest. Lola with the aid of her equally troubled father kidnaps Brent and organizes a private prom, a night of terror that Brent will never forget. The premise might seem familiar, but The Loved Ones offers enough twists and turns at precisely the moments you least expect, taking the story in unexpected turn.
Xavier Samuel (who went on to become a teen heartthrob in the third Twilight film) gives a convincing, unforgettable and charismatic performance. Making the most of his character, the actor does a perfect job in expressing his emotions with little or no dialogue. Robin McLeavy steals every scene she’s in as Lola, turning an unforgettable performance that cannot be overlooked. Lola dressed in glitter and pink satin, along with her seriously deranged father (with whom she shares a disturbingly pseudo-sexual relationship) make one of the most unforgettable serial killer duos in quite a long time.
D.O.P. Simon Chapman makes great use of long, steady takes, and shows great patience in holding the camera still for long periods of time. The lighting and set design make the picture seem like it had a much bigger budget, the filmmakers rely on good old make-up and practical effects over anything digital and Editor Andy Canny cuts away at just the right frames, mounting the tension in key sequences to just the right level before each payoff is delivered.
With a searing rock soundtrack, intertwining story lines, great dialogue and fresh characters, The Loved Ones is vivid, sometimes scary, sometimes funny and always thrilling. Reconfiguring Pretty in Pink as a torture-porn horror film, The Loved Ones is smart, refreshing and marks Byrne as a definite director to watch out for.