Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review : The Loved Ones (2009)



Sean Byrne
After the tragic death of his Father in a crash in which he was driving, Brent has become a shell of his former self. Redemption may come in the form of his patient and loving girlfriend, but Brent has bigger issues to contend with...

Prom Night is approaching, and Brent has caught the eye of a quiet, awkward girl in his class. When he respectfully turns down her invitation to the dance, she devises a plan to make sure she has her perfect Prom Night, and Brent's going to be her date, whether he likes it or not...

I admit it. I honestly thought the much maligned 'Torture Porn' sub genre had ten shades of nothing left to show us. I mean, lets be honest, it wasn't really any damn good in the first place. I quite like a number of the films that truly deserve to fall under the umbrella of 'Torture', but at best, they've been guilty pleasures, and at worst, they've been HOSTEL 2. Pointless, banal, cheap and suffering from a severe case of 'No-Balls'. 

There are plenty of films that can arguably be fit into the sub-genre, which have real merit, meaning and worth. AUDITION, I SAW THE DEVIL, and MARTYRS all immediately spring to mind as films that transcend the label while being perhaps inspired by its possibilities. Now, its a stretch calling these films 'Torture Porn', and its actually pretty derogatory. These films feature prolonged bouts of agonising violence, but that's far from all they have to offer. A movie like HOSTEL 2, or the SAW series, (which I enjoy for what they are), are really little more than titillation for the gore lover that resides in most genre fans. Those films ain't art, no matter what your smoking. MARTYRS on the other hand....

There are many more films we could label as being loosely termed 'Torture Porn' that rise far above the image we all have of these cheap exploitation flicks. INSIDE could arguably be called one. So could THE HILLS HAVE EYES, MOTHERS DAY, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and any number of other films that really deserve to be cut a break, but if the definition of this sub-genre is, 'Helpless person tied to a chair and fucked up being all recognition', then THE LOVED ONES has to be considered part of this modern breed of Horror. Luckily, it also transcends any pigeonholing and actually brings something worthwhile to the table, while clearly taking some of its horror cues from 'Torture' movies.

THE LOVED ONES is a prolonged scream to the face, that's as entertaining, twisted and frightening as this type of movie is ever likely to get. It walks the tightrope between pure exploitation and artistry that few films, (the ones I mentioned not withstanding), have managed to walk, without losing balance one way or the other. Its a powerhouse of a Horror film, and an exhilarating ride into a seriously fucked up situation that you just cant take your eyes off of. And, unlike HOSTEL or SAW, its genuinely scary as all hell. Why? Because you care.

THE LOVED ONES' warped plot is bolstered by a whole plethora of authentic and impassioned performances. It has a relatively small cast, and often the dialogue is very sparse, (or for one character, practically non-existent. Don't ask!) and shrouded in vagaries. Yet you care. These are fully fleshed out people who seem to exist in the same world we do. From the drunken high school hottie to the horny stoner, these are real people. Each character has depth, internal struggles and focus. Its left up to the audience to put in the work as to why they behave the way they do, but its all there. Even the 'cop who investigates a situation he can't comprehend', is sympathetic, and you'll be praying he survives this nightmare. After all, if you've been paying attention, you'll know his family has went through enough pain already...

The leads are all fantastic. Xavier Samuel, as Brent, is so good, you'll forgive him for starring in those shitty TWILIGHT movies. Playing his part almost entirely dialogue free, (you really don't wanna know), he still elicits all your sympathy. Not merely because his situation is utterly horrifying, but because he exudes inner strength, determination and a damaged dignity, even in the face of total degradation. The only performance I can make any comparison to is that of Pollyanna McIntosh in THE WOMAN, and that's high praise indeed. John Brumpton, as 'Daddy' is fucking chilling. A potent mix of incestuous desire and bat-shit crazy murderer, who'll do anything for his daughter, Lola. The bug eyed bastard is small of frame, and large of fear. In one scene where he slams his hammer on the table, your left in no doubt that this lunatic means business. And he's not even the scariest monster here....

Robin McLeavy, as 'Lola' is a study in total madness that has to be seen to be believed. Lola is, on the surface, the quiet, unassuming girl we all know from our high school years. She cant get the best looking guy, and shes a little socially awkward, but she's harmless, right? Well not this wallflower. Lola is 'The revenge of the nerd' personified and turned up to a million. Shes ruthless, manipulative, twisted beyond all reason, and just about the most evil bitch you'll ever come across onscreen. Imagine Annie Wilkes from MISERY, yet younger, sexually devious, and about a hundred times more evil, needy and creative, and you got Lola. For Robin McLeavy to appear out of nowhere and pull off this role with such showstopping brilliance is a revelation. This should see her become a star. Xavier Samuel will breakout too, I'm sure, but McLeavy deserved a fucking Oscar. If, of course, they gave Oscars to movies that featured creative uses of hammers, drills, rocks, knives and much more. Shes great. The only downside is that shes so beautiful, (and sexy), that you'll wonder why she has to kidnap the men in her life. Most guys wouldn't need to be asked twice, know what I mean?
You'll hate the villains and you'll love the good guys. You'll demand vengeance for pain that's caused, and you'll share the sense of loss that's so keenly felt throughout. THE LOVED ONES for all its craziness and twisted violence, is as much a study of grief as it is a full-throttle hell-ride. In fact, its title alone got me thinking about who exactly its referencing. The 'Loved Ones' may well be the deceased that have left such huge holes in our casts lives. Or they may be the 'boyfriends' of Lola, who's tragic fates are detailed throughout the movie, ( Brent ain't the first guy to turn this crazy bitch down). I like to think the loved ones of the title are the people who inspire hope in our main characters. Brent's supportive girlfriend being one of them. Its just my perception, no less or more valid than any other. Anyway, I digress...

Most of you will be here for the delirious plot, hypertension, ultra-violence and general chaos. Rest easy, you'll get them all in spades. The film opens strong, setting up its characters quickly and efficiently, and then spirals down into nightmare territory with gleeful abandon. For such a brutal film, there is very little empthasis on gore. But as we all know, you don't need to fully see it, to feel it, (I'm looking at you TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE). The scenes of torture and personal degradation here are among the most wince-inducing your likely to have come across, and may well have you looking away in revulsion as Lola and her perverted Poppa set about showing Brent their unholy version of a Prom Dance. I would never give away any of the many ungodly punishments these two lunatics impose on poor Brent, but they really are twisted, and terrifying. The two hellions are all about pain, and by god, they enjoy their work.

Director Sean Byrne, understands that you don't need to see all the details to feel every hurt, but he also understands that shock value is sometimes necessary too. The film never goes for cheap scares though. Instead it bombards you with imagery that's so surreal, so downright warped, that your drawn into the whole mad world its two antagonists have created for themselves. THE LOVED ONES  is as visually striking as it is repulsive, and its often laugh-out-loud hilarious, without ever losing its dark and serious tone. Your laughter is almost a nervous release. This is the definition of 'Black Comedy'. You think I'm sick? Look for the scene where Brent has to blow on one of those party horns, I almost wet myself, yet I still felt for the poor son of a bitch. Sean Byrne knows what he's doing. His aesthetic is as much 'Tarantino' as it is, 'Tobe Hooper'.

The cherry on top of all this sick brilliance is the soundtrack, which incorporates a number of ditties that detail jilted lovers, and works as a perfect balance to the darkness your subjected to. The juxtaposition between romantic song numbers and hardcore psychosis works brilliantly, and makes the whole thing that much more creepy and disturbing. You'll never listen to the songs featured here in the same way again.

The films only flaw is what some will see as a superfluous sub-plot. one which features Brent's best buddy and a beautiful high school misfit, who have there own, much less extreme version of a shitty Prom night. I liked these guys, and I liked the emotional depth it added to the death and destruction being dealt out by Lola and that queasy-ass incestuous dad of hers. Some may find it a little distracting, but not me. I say stick with it, it makes sense in the end, even if there is perhaps no real closure.

THE LOVED ONES is a demented, balls-out extreme Horror movie that knows exactly what its doing. Its a perfect balance of drama, violence, jet-black humor and wild grind-house cinema that respects its audience even as it challenges us. Its one the best Horror movies in years and is destined for classic status as time rolls on. Its a near perfect piece of crazy-as-hell cinema that is as exhilarating as it is exhausting. Your guaranteed a great time with this thing, whether the sub-genre is your 'scene', or not. Sean Byrne and his stellar cast should be on all our radars in the future. See THE LOVED ONES, and remember why you feel in love with the genre in the first damn place. Romance ain't dead. Its just wearing a pink dress, wielding a syringe and is as ball-shrivelling crazy as your worst dating nightmare. An unclassifiable masterpiece.

9.5 Crazy Bitches out of 10


  1. Yes, couldn't have said it better. I really loved this one and hope more people see it.

  2. Same here, man. Ive been spreading the word to all who'll listen.