Read Tim Anderson’s review:
While nearly everything has already been done before, what separates a good filmmaker from a great one is whether or not they can take an old plot and put a fresh spin on it. Director Sean Byrne did just that with The Loved Ones, his hyper-realistic horror thriller that is a crossbreed of Wolf Creek, Otis and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (maybe Spider Baby would be more relevant).
In the film, also scripted by Byrne, Brent (Xavier Samuel), a 17-year-old student, still grieving for his father, declines an invitation to the school formal from Lola (Robin McLeavy), 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.
While this plot is tired, old and quite simply trite, Byrne engages the audience with his deep character exploration, which is the driving for of the film. He takes the time to introduce us to Brent’s world as we meet his girlfriend desperate for his love, his best friend lacking self-esteem who manages to get the girl of his dreams to go to the dance with him, and even spend some time with his mother. The audience is taken on a journey of everyone is Brent’s life, all of whom play a major role in rounding out the finale of the film. More impressive is the contrasting story that begins immediately when Brent is taken hostage by the psychopath Lola and her father. While Brent is tied to a chair and forced to a family dinner with Lola, his friend is picking up his hot date for the dance. When Brent is getting a knife hammered into his foot, his friend is drinking and smoking pot with his chick. And when sh*t really hits the fan for Brent, his friend is getting the backseat dream-f*ck of his life. It’s a brilliant parallel that’s intensely engaging on both fronts, and while one will have you on the edge of your seat, the other had you rooting for the awkward kid that might remind you of yourself when you were 16.
But the stroke of real genius comes when Byrne turns the switch up to 10 and throws a curve ball. While it could be expected, this plot turn is delivered in such a way that the audience shouldn’t really be trying to think ahead (one of the biggest flaws in a horror fan). Byrne does such a good job of keeping you engaged that you should only be worried about the present, and not the future. And it’s quite poetic what the title really means – I think my response was something along the lines of “oh f*ck yeah!”
While Loved Ones does have a few scene of torture, it’s really not about that and never is it the focus of the film. Yes, it’s bloody and quite violent, but again, it’s just not about that. It’s about the whole picture and how everything ties together.
I’m digging on this new breed of subgenre, which is brutal, uncompromising and hyper-realistic. Carried by strong performances (by everyone) and stunning cinematography by Simon Chapman, The Loved Ones is a beautiful, fresh and engaging horror film that’s a must see.