Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Release Review: The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2010)

Driving along a country road with his father, high school senior Brent (Xavier Samuel) wraps his car around a tree after violently swerving to avoid hitting a bloodied half-naked man standing in the middle of the road. His father is ultimately killed, and he struggles to cope with the loss of his father and guilt over his responsibility in the accident. Constantly confronted by his comatose mother's emotional collapse following the accident, Brent has become a dejected social outcast, who hides beneath a marijuana addiction and heavy metal music, to mask his pain. Clearly out-of-sorts, not even his pretty girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) can bring him happiness. He is asked to the end of school dance by the quiet, often-rejected Lola (Robin McLeavy), but he chooses to go with Holly instead. Later that day, before the dance, Brent is followed and abducted by Lola's demonic father (John Brumpton) and taken to their home. The living room of their house has been transformed into a ballroom illuminated by a mirrored disco ball, and adorned with balloons. Lola is having the perfect graduation celebration whether Brent was willing to participate or not.

With the assistance of her father, the demented Lola firstly injects Brent with a sedative that deems in inaudible when he attempts to communicate, and with his feet nailed to the ground, he is viciously humiliated and inevitably becomes the victim of some of the vilest forms of torture you will ever see in an Australian film this side of Wolf Creek (2004). Dressed for the part in a dress of pink satin, and wearing a pink paper crown, Robin McLeavy gives a ghastly, but hysterical performance and nothing is deemed sensitive in this tale of a lonely teenage girl who exerts vengeance on her ignorant peers. The Loved Ones delivers enough gory shocks to please genre fans, but has a demented sense of humor which differentiates it from other notable 'Torture Porn' films such as the Hostel series.

The perverted Electra relationship between Lola and her father was certainly the most disturbing feature of the film, but there is an air of fun to their nastiness that somehow makes this less of an ordeal than expected. It is still grotesque and makes you squirm unpleasantly, but the cruelty is broken up with a number of sub-plots, notably the unraveling of Brent's best mate's dance date with the school goth, and the emotional responses and subsequent inquest into Brent's disappearance by his girlfriend and mother. While the latter is quite draining, the former is a hilarious sequence of events that ultimately culminates in...nothing. At an energetic pace, the camerawork is inventive throughout, the performances are all excellent, but the score was an uneven collaboration. Writer/director Sean Byrne's debut feature has been widely well received at various festivals and while it is a difficult film to relate to or gain any enjoyment from, it's frequent horrific moments left me both gasping, yet amused. I wasn't overly impressed with the conclusion and I thought, despite the films' brevity (at only 80 minutes), it struggled to find material to fill in time. Overall though, it's a pretty cool Aussie horror flick. 

My Rating: 3 Stars

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