Can you hear that? That is the sound of an immensely satisfied horror fan. I watched The Loved Ones this week and, even 48 hours later, I feel like the cat that got the cream.
A feature length debut from Australian writer/director Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is a demented coming-of-age tale of loss, jealousy and revenge. On paper, a movie that mixes tropes from torture movies, teen comedies, revenge narratives and female melodrama sounds like a complete mess, but somehow Byrne has found the perfect blend thanks to mature storytelling, humourous yet terrifying imagery and main characters in whom you believe.
Brent, troubled by the belief he caused his father’s death, struggles to cope at the end of his final year at high school. Unbeknownst to Brent and his loving girlfriend, Holly, a classmate, has a sinister plan to make Brent her date for the high school prom. At any cost.
In recent horror successes, rather than follow the exhausted tropes of their specific sub-genres, these movies involve a warping of expectations and an understanding of the audience. The Loved Ones begins with all the trappings of an indie, high school teen movie; characters are setup with their specific archetypes; the goofy best friend, Jamie, is established as the comedic release, and the music choice evokes memories of John Hughes at his peak. Act One isn’t without its visceral imagery – Brent self-harms, which we see on one occasion – but it never looks like it’s going to go down the route in which it ends up going.
Then it ramps up significantly. Daddy’s little princess should be a phrase everyone is familiar with, and it is pretty much the main narrative premise of The Loved Ones. One stylistic aspect of the movie I think deserves major credit is the use of the camera and sound/music to convey emotion. We see extreme close ups and POV shots when things are getting crazy, yet the next shot will be a Polanski-esque objective, fly-on-the-wall angle from one corner of the room. The camerawork and editing choices go the distance in their pursuit for laughs or cringing, and it definitely achieves this. Nevertheless, you could have the best director, sound designer and cinematographer in the world, but if your actors are sub-par then your movie will be a failure, and that this is not.
Every single member of cast becomes their character, and the most notable being Robin McLeavy as the psychotic, Lola. The director got her to watch Misery, Tarantino’s catalogue, Natural Born Killers, and research Jeffrey Dahmer as preparation for the role, and she absolutely nails it. There are points in which it becomes almost impossible to watch what is happening solely because she is so believable in her role. This movie, once it hits top gear, does not let up, and turns from what could be described as ‘torture porn’ into a revenge narrative. There are various twists and turns that will not be spoiled here, but are so satisfying as well as damn fun!
While all this insanity is being inflicted on Brent, and while the police are looking for him, we repeatedly see Jamie’s endeavours at his prom night; smoking pot, drinking vodka and trying to win over his school’s quiet, goth girl. While this becomes the comic relief, it also introduces some of the important plot points and character motivations. There are many things that on the surface may look unimportant, but everything is shown for a reason in The Loved Ones, ultimately making for a fantastic movie experience while you are trying to piece it all together.
The Loved Ones is one of the most complete horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clever, treats its audience with an obvious respect, and contains a perfect amount of gore, fucked up twists and an ending that leaves no stone unturned. We don’t do ratings here, but you can bet if we did this movie would be adorned with many twinkling stars.