The Loved Ones. 2009. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Andrew S. Gilbert, Suzi Dougherty, Victoria Eagger, Anne Scott-Pendlebury, Fred Whitlock, & Leo Taylor. Screen Australia/Omnilab Media/Ambience Entertainment/Film Victoria.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
The number of films where women are kidnapped and subjected to the vile torture of misogynistic men is uncountable. How many, even worse, take on the rape-revenge angle whilst requiring a man to take revenge for the women, as if she were some helpless child? Well, for once, there’s a (g00d) film which subverts the expectations of the sub-genre: The Loved Ones. Within a typical framework, writer-director Sean Byrne crafts an emotional, darkly comic, gruesome horror-thriller out of eerie performances and outright nastiness. However, nothing in this is simply made to shock. The plot takes us on a twisty-turny journey, even if the outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. But that’s the mark of a great movie sometimes when it takes an archetypal setup, something we’ve all seen time and time again, and turns everything on its head. Perhaps what I love most is that the antagonist, the villain of this horror is a woman. She holds no quarter, either. Her brutality is equal to if not more than a man’s and she has no problem showing it off. Along the way we’re treated to other atypical bits of plot, as well as a wonderfully twisted sense of storytelling. And I’ll be damned if the visual style of the film isn’t groovy.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is learning to drive. His father is in the seat next to him, singing along to tunes on the radio. They laugh and joke, they poke fun at one another. But when Brent looks away for a moment to his father, a bloody young man with a large heart and two letters carved into his chest wanders across the road. Brent swerves and they hit a tree.
After his father’s death, Brent finds it hard to cope, both with his own terrible guilt, and the brutal emotions of his mother. Although, he does have a girlfriend named Holly (Victoria Thaine), and she provides a much needed refuge for him, plus there’s his good friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) who sticks by his side.
But one day while out smoking weed and off in his own world, Brent is abducted. He wakes up to Lola (Robin McLevy) and her father (John Brumpton). That day, he had to turn down Lola when she asked him to prom. Now it seems as if she and ‘Daddy’ have their own plans. Along with a rotating disco ball, paper crowns, fried chicken, knives, and even a power drill, Brent is about to have his own prom with Lola.
A night he’ll never forget. Especially when he finds out what they’re hiding in the basement.
We see our main character seemingly express a deathwish by hanging back from a cliff’s edge, as if daring himself to let go. But when he slips slightly, barely regaining traction to keep himself hanging on, it’s evident he doesn’t actually want to die. Just a nice little early touch I found enjoyable, which added to his character in a perfect way. You can see how caught between living life and feeling guilty he is, and it so obviously wracks him constantly with a pain of indecision; he can’t tell whether to be guilty, or to move on, which any of us obviously would after losing a parent in a car crash that was, sort of, your fault. Watching him struggle between the two ends of the spectrum is difficult, but only in the way we feel heavy emotions for his character from the start. More than that, he ends up in the worst fight of his life later on, so to see his self-imposed near (possible) death juxtaposed with the very real threat of death put upon him by Lola and Daddy, it’s an interesting contrast to say the least. Then you add the fact Brent feels the guilt of his father’s death, he probably did want to die. That all changes once he’s placed into the hands of others who will, no doubt, bring about that death. Without spoiling anything, the stakes get even higher, much larger once Brent discovers a few more things later on.
Xavier Samuel isnt someone I’ve seen much of. Though, the few times I have seen his performances I’ve always enjoyed them – for instance, Bait wasn’t even a good movie, highly average, and I still thought he played well in it. But here, as Brent, he brings out the range required. Impressive performance. His ability to play the depressed and devastated side of Brent is easily seen, almost immediately in the first frame after his father dies. Then, once things at Lola’s house get more and more serious, he brings out the anger and the tormented rage inside him that’s been boiling for so long, and it unleashes onto the screen.
Still, even with John Brumpton doing awesome work as her Daddy, the star of the show is Robin McLeavy’s Lola. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is the AMC series Hell on Wheels, and she does a fantastic job there, too. But Lola – what a piece of work! Imagine Jeffrey Dahmer, except as a teenage girl, and she’s got a strange psychosexual relationship happening with her father, and VOILA! C’est Lola! McLeavy is totally twisted. Her presence at the beginning, in that first scene asking Brent to prom, is wildly unassuming. Even with her on the cover of the film looking ominous, you still don’t get any of that from her initial appearance; she seems like an innocent, sweet little thing. Slowly, McLeavy brings out her manic side with all she’s got. Her danger is evident, crystal clear with each frame after the next, after the next. She becomes this unstoppable force, almost like a female Michael Myers, walking through the fields and stalking towards her next prey. So to see the savage finale it was a real treat. Never once does Byrne treat Lola as a woman, in the sense that he doesn’t act like he has to be delicate with this character simply due to her gender. He takes her all the way through to every deadly little conclusion instead of prancing around the details, whittling away at her character to try and make her sympathetic. She’s one of the most unsympathetic horror characters I’ve seen in ages, and each time I see this film I’m always amazed at how perfectly Lola is written, really giving us a subversion of the expected tropes in the genre. For once, a woman gets to be the true slasher-style villain. And does it ever kick fucking ass.
One of my favourite horror-thrillers in the past decade. A 4&1/2-star affair. It is never apologetic and always at its finest, most gruesome form. The Loved Ones takes the typical kidnapping-torture sub-genre and does something interesting with it, instead of trying to go over and over the same territory. It certainly hits familiar notes, it’s not the most revolutionary thriller to come out. But it has heart, as well as a touch of ingenuity. Plus, as I said, there are never any apologies, in the sense that Sean Byrne goes for broke, he treats his female killer the same way he would if the character were male. And these are the types of things I like to see in horror. When we can treat genders separately in terms of their stories yet equally in terms of their stature as weighty characters, horror (or any genre for that matter) only gets better. It’s a change, and change is good. Check out The Loved Ones – it’s a brutish romp through an old neighbourhood, with a different spin, lots of bloody goodness, and the candy coated visuals make this dark subject shine.