It’s time to wrap up our SXSW Film Fest review coverage as Tim Anderson has submitted his thoughts on Sean Byrne’s Aussie thriller The Loved Ones, a film we’ve been praising here on B-D since last September (read my review). In the film Brent, a 17-year-old student, still grieving for his father, declines an invitation to the school formal from Lola, the quietest girl in school. When Lola and her father kidnap Brent he must fight to survive the macabre celebration they have in store for him. Read his review below.
Ever watch a movie and find the concept intriguing but feel it could best be explored in another, different, movie? I get the feeling that Writer/Director Sean Byrne might have felt that way if he saw Otis. Otis was one of Warner Brother’s Raw Feed titles that came out a couple of years ago. A dark comedy film about a twisted loser who kept kidnapping girls in order to take them to the Prom. But that film wasn’t really about the title character. That movie was really about how crazy the girls family might get if they got their hands on the kidnapper. But, somewhere in there, I felt like we sorta missed out on the story of Otis. The Loved Ones remedies that situation…with a lot of blood!
Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel) is your average Aussie high school kid, with a painful past. 6-months earlier he was behind the wheel during a freak car accident that claimed the life of his father. He’s trying to move on with the help of his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) and his best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson). Enter Lola (Robin McLeavy), a painfully shy girl who just wants Brent to take her to the prom. When Brent politely refuses, he’s completely unaware that Lola’s deranged Daddy (John Brumpton) will do anything to satisfy his daughter’s desires. And…Lola desires a prom date!
The Loved Ones story is really straightforward in it’s plot development, but in that simplicity is peppered some seriously outrageous bloodshed and a couple of twistedly brilliant performances.
After Daddy and Lola kidnap Brent and take him back to their double wide mobile home (with a secret basement chamber too boot) they strap the poor kid to a chair and parade out the most twisted family dynamic since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which the film seems to be clearly paying loving tribute to). It’s not long before a drill to the head and some knives to the feet are pressed into service.
Byrne could have shied away from the rampant brutality in the film, but I don’t think the story would have been as effective in our post-Hostel world of vicious torture. In the same respects, the film isn’t ever shockingly over the top. Sure a little Black & Decker to the brain isn’t anyone’s idea of family film, but The Loved Ones could have been a lot more careless with it’s carnage.
It’s clear to see the love of genre cinema that begat this production. With echoes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Misery and a generation of new Australian horror films like Wolf Creek to choose from, Byrne–who grew up on a steady diet of drive-in horror films–shows restraint where need be, and has a great eye for composition and a solid knack for ratcheting the tension up. Mark my words, this is a filmmaker to keep your eyes on.
As for the cast of The Loved Ones, it’s a promising feature film introduction for western audiences to the talents of Xavier Samuel–who’ll be appearing in Twilight: Eclipse later this year. And, anchored at the center of this madness is Robin McLeavy’s completely compelling and psychotically empathetic performance as Lola. I mean this girl is whole suits short of a full playing deck, yet it’s difficult to not be at least a little bit intrigued by her. She walks a thin line between tragic teenager and total lunatic–it’s like casting Molly Ringwald to play Annie Wilkes.
For all it’s derivation and homage, The Loved Ones still feels like a wholly original film. A sick and twisted fairy tale inhabited by real flesh and blood people. The film works on several levels, but the key success is in the filmmakers ability to make these people much more true to life than the usual meat puppets that play on the horror film stage. You can understand and identify with Brent (whose refreshingly not an asshole) and Holly (whose not a bimbo) and even Lola and Daddy (who despite their antisocial tendencies are really just a loving father and daughter trying to make it through the tough teenage years together). In many ways the film draws parallels to not only a lot of great horror films, but to a lot of great 80’s teen melodramas as well. Perhaps, if Otis were best described as a Horror film set in a Sitcom, than it’s equally accurate to call The Loved Ones a John Hughes movie for serial killers.