The Loved Ones was originally supposed to play at Fantastic Fest 2011 but was then yanked at the last minute by the studio. It was later released via various screenings, some of which turned out to feature an inferior, edited version of the film. And while that's the reason it's taken me so long to see the 2009 Australian horror film from writer/director Sean Byrne, it doesn't make me any less angry with myself that I've wasted all this time not watching this bloody, funny, intense flick.
In case you've been similarly negligent, I suggest you add The Loved Ones to your October horror movie marathon list immediately. Sean Byrne has established himself as one hell of a guy to watch with his first feature film, delivering something bright, brand new and deeply felt. The movie boasts a cavernous black wit that transcends any similarities to torture porn despite the legitimately horrifying torture that plays out in it. The Loved Ones is unbelievably violent, marvelously so, but it's also kind of sweet, keenly told and endlessly clever.
Xavier Samuel plays Brent, a high school boy who spends his days staggering through an abyss of guilt because he was behind the wheel during the car crash that killed his father. He has plans to go to the school dance with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine), but that doesn't sit well with Lola, a pink-drenched princess who has her father abduct Brent and keep him locked up in Lola's personal twisted prom of horrors. Lola's played by Robin McLeavy, who gives a performance made of pure rage and energy.
The film could thrive on McLeavy's fierce, hysterical performance alone, but fortunately it needn't. Samuel is heartbreaking as Brent, Thaine is lovely, Jessica McNamee as a self-destructive goth and Richard Wilson as her anxious suitor are nothing but heart. And John Brumpton terrifies and discomforts as Lola's Daddy. He's in turns pitiful and frightening, gazing at his daughter with creepy, star-crossed lust and using hammers and drills and blades to take his frustration out on the boy who rejected her for the dance.
In tone and palette, The Loved Ones reminds me of nothing so much as House of Yes, another blackly comic film that lives and dies on the highly-keyed performance of its manic leading lady. But The Loved Ones is certainly its own film, one that skates a singular balance between sly, grotesque and compassionate. The Loved Ones is a movie, much like Joseph Kahn's terrific Detention, that understands that mysterious, mercurial beast: the teenager.
The film is visually arresting, brimming with candy colors and dream lighting. Everything about this movie is unexpected, imaginative. And brutal. Gorehounds will find themselves spontaneously cheering throughout the film. The Loved Ones offers so many surprises, so much style and levity and guts. It's a perfect new addition to horror canon - one that I will watch again and again, and I bet you will too.
You can rent it from Netflix or just go ahead and buy it from Amazon at the link below (it's worth it!), or if you need some instant gratification, you can pay to watch it immediately from Amazon Instant Watch or VUDU.