I was lucky enough to catch the World Premiere of both [Rec]2 and The Loved Ones in 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. And yes they did indeed make my last year. But unless you were at the TIFF screening, you wouldn’t have ever had a chance to catch either one of these gems. However in 2010 both films did screen at various film festivals around the world and since I can’t find any other horror movie that deserves to be mentioned on this list, I have decided to place both [Rec]2 and The Loves Ones, tied at fourth place. Hey I never said there was rules and this is my list.
#4 – [Rec] 2
Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza are back with [REC]2, the realtime sequel to their terrifying 2007 horror film. The original derived much of its cult following from its unforgettable ending, and the sequel begins 15 minutes after its predecessor ends, taking three heavily armed members of a Special Operations Unit and an official from the Ministry Of Health (Jonathan Mellor) into the building that was quarantined in the first film.
[REC]2 delivers the same nonstop thrills but adds on a new spin to the tale, taking cues from Aliens and The Exorcist with a subplot about demonic possession. This is far from your cut and dry sequel. It has enough invention and wit to keep fans happy; it’s a non stop adrenaline pumping terror ride into hell. Much like [REC], the sequel blends a clever mutation of horror standards seen in everything from Romero’s films to Outbreak to The Blair Witch Project.
Without wasting much time, the infected attack the SWAT team, and we’re on our way. We learn early on that what they’re dealing with aren’t zombies but something entirely different – the same can be said for the “doctor” who’s been sent in with the SWAT team. Despite the plot twists, the filmmakers fail in keeping consistent with the original.
As in [REC], the audience is taken on a first-person ride through the infected apartment complex, and here the possibility of the shaky-cam shots are further explored. In [REC] 2, the SWAT team is equipped with cameras on their helmets to help document the events, and in addition each agent also has a tiny camera mounted on his helmet, making the picture technically more impressive while also giving editor David Gallart more raw material to work with. The brilliant use of several cameras mounted on their helmets allows the audience to be quickly transported anywhere the action is taking place.
In a brilliant turn of events, the SWAT team loses their camera feed, sending the picture to a dead halt. After thirty seconds of silence and watching a black screen we start the journey over from the very beginning through the eyes of a group of kids who were earlier spotted in the apartment. The small group of teenagers (Andrea Ros, Alex Batllori, Pau Poch) enter the building through the city sewers and being documenting the mayhem within.
Like its predecessor, the sound design, substituting for a score, is the key to success, only the filmmakers’ mistake is to drown out the sound with continuous non stop rambling, with its characters arguing amongst themselves. The constant bickering and yelling cuts away at the tension and quickly becomes tiresome, leaving us with a technically superior yet less creepy picture. The success of the original depended on how effectively it built tension. There is no slow build up to the events and we are never given a chance to grow or care about any characters. Instead, the action simply starts and never lets up. Just like Aliens, [REC] is first and foremost about creating fear. It’s a true horror film with perfect mood and tone, and just like Aliens, [REC]2 is more of an action film than its predecessor, far more concerned with adrenaline-pumping thrills.
Many argue that offering an explanation for something that was far more effective when left largely unexplained is a major flaw. I won’t disagree but unfortunately that is the price you pay for any sequel, Halloween being the prime example. Not only was Michael Myers just a shape in the original, but it was never Carpenter’s intention to flesh out his character and add on a sibling relationship. As a result, [REC] 2 may not quite be the masterpiece that fans were hoping for, but Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza have managed to return to the world that they created and keep true to the spirit of the original.
#4 – The Loved Ones
Directed by Sean Byrne
Sean Byrne’s debut feature, The Loved Ones, crosses various horror touchstones, touching on teen angst, torture porn, melodrama and 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. The fusion of these horror classics makes The Loved Ones one of the best offerings at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Bound to provoke reactions from more sensitive audience members, The Loves Ones is destined to become a cult fave. Leaving most viewers with their hands over their eyes and a smile grinning from ear to ear, this dark horse independent gem is a guaranteed wild and unforgettable ride.
Director Sean Byrne who slaved away making shorts, is a prime example of the raw 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 humor and horror is scaled so perfectly that the scares sneak up when least expected. Byrne is a master of manipulating tension with a very keen eye and a gift for pushing its violence to the limit without feeling over excessive.
The basic premise of the movie seems fairly conventional. With prom night about to take place in a small town, teenagers are preparing for the special night scrambling to find a 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. Despite it`s familiar premise, The Loved Ones offers enough twists and turns at precisely the moments you least expect, taking a familiar story in a new and exciting direction.
Byrne clearly had no trouble finding quality actors. Xavier Samuel (soon to be 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, and her seriously off balanced father, with whom she shares a disturbingly pseudo-sexual relationship make one of the most potent serial killer duos to ever grace the screen. Using veterinary drugs, hammers, salt, drills and other typical household products on their victims as punishment, these characters are sure to become classic horror icons for the ages.
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, creating some of the most memorable scenes from any horror film you’re likely to see this year. The lighting and set design make the picture seem like it had a much bigger budget, and the filmmakers rely on good old make-up and practical effects over anything digital. However, the star of the film is editor Andy Canny, who 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, deftly intertwined story lines, great dialogue and fresh characters, The Loved Ones is a vivid, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, relentless thriller. Reconfiguring Pretty in Pink as a torture-porn horror film, this stunning spectacle is sure to have everyone howling in amazement. Smart, refreshing and devoid of any gimmicks or eye-rolling nonsense, this Australian genre-film marks Byrne as a definite director to watch out for.
– Ricky D