I have to hand it to whatever publicist was sending me press materials on The Loved Ones a couple of months ago when they were pushing the whole "Get The Loved Ones to play in your town!" campaign, because somehow I got the idea that this Australian horror movie was a throwback to 1980s prom revenge stories, a little tongue-in-cheek dark parody in pink taffeta. Had I known that it was really a sickening torture film, I'd not have ever put my name up to review the DVD.
So, know that going in: I was not even remotely the best guy to review The Loved Ones. I was looking for a movie where I could cheer on the persecuted outcast as she unleashes her demented vengeance on the student body. What I got instead was a film where some poor kid who actually wasn't even mean to her gets his vocal chords ruined, his feet nailed to the floor, and the girl's initials carved into his chest. That's wayyyy different.
The Loved Ones opens with stoner metalhead Brent (Xavier Samuel) out driving with his dad. They're having a good time until a shirtless, bloody dude appears in the road. Brent swerves to miss him, crashes the car, kills his dad. D'oh! Cut to six months later, and a sullen Brent is carrying on with life in spite of the tragedy. He's getting ready to take his girlfriend (Victoria Thaine) to the end-of-year dance, and his stoner bud Jamie (Richard Wilson) just asked out the hot rocker girl (Jessica McNamee) and she said yes! When Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the dance, he tells her he can't, he's spoken for. Nothing major, right?
Except Lola and her dad (John Brumpton) are twisted psychopaths who kidnap boys Lola likes and drills holes in their heads. It's their version of the date Lola didn't otherwise get. Brent is their new victim, and he will spend most of the movie either tied up in their kitchen or trying to run away. That is, when he's not being gnawed on by cannibals.
The Loved One is the first full-length feature from writer/director Sean Byrne. Credit where it's due, Byrne has made a stylish picture that is as gonzo visually as it is conceptually. Angles are exaggerated, set design is appropriately tacky, and the gore is visceral and disturbing. The cast is also pretty strong across the board. McLeavy in particular is committed to letting Lola's freak flag fly. She is a spoiled brat and she knows it. The subplot with Jamie and Mia going to the dance also works pretty well, even if the awkward romance is totally out of joint with the rest of the film. I kept waiting for either Brent and Lola to go to the dance, or Jamie and Mia to end up at Lola's, but the two storylines never intersect in that way. The payoff when Jamie takes the girl home isn't really enough to justify these digressions being woven in with all the bloody bits.
Which is a big problem with The Loved Ones: why is any of this happening? Sure, the whole thing's really twisted, but that's about all I can say for it. It's twisted, but not even remotely fun to watch. The Loved Ones seems to be aiming for the blackest of humors, but it's just mean and cruel, it's not clever or funny. I don't get what the point is supposed to be. I can't laugh at Lola, and I am not invested in Brent's life enough to root for his escape. No one learns anything, no one gains any positive change, we have no more sympathy for or understanding of any of the participants despite witnessing all they've been through. Sure, I squirmed, but I never felt any other emotion. The tone that Byrne is pushing for is wicked and almost gleeful, but what he comes up with is just infantile and off-putting instead.
Also, the fried chicken scene in this movie is nowhere near as effective as the one in William Friedkin's Killer Joe. Why are people getting so aggressive with poultry lately?
The widescreen image is pretty good, with vibrant colors that really pop. Resolution is strong, and there seems to be no real flaws. I didn't notice any jagged lines or blocky pictures. Blacks are good and dark.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix of the original soundtrack is excellent. There are nice front and back effects, and lots of punch when the heavy metal soundtrack kicks in.
Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Separate interviews with the stars, Robin McLeavy and Xavier Samuel, and a third with Justin Dix, the special effects supervisor.
There is also a code for an "Ultraviolet" digital copy that you can download or stream on your computer and portable devices.
Listen, I don't like pointless horror and torture. I have to have a reason to watch a piece of wetwork like The Loved Ones. I found it witless and foul-minded. You might think otherwise. To each his own. But I say Skip It.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.