Production Companies: Screen Australia, Omnilab Media, Ambience Entertainment, Film Victoria
Writer and Director: Sean Byrne
Cast: Xavier Samuel – Brent, Robin McLeavy – Lola, John Brumpton – Daddy, Victoria Thaine – Holly
There’s something very unique about Australian cinema.
It’s easy to get brainwashed by the constant stream of American everything, in particular Hollywood, and become conditioned to expect particular things each time you sit down to watch a movie. The fact that if a film is produced by any other country, it is lumped into the category of ‘World Cinema’, as if you either watch something made in America or made by the rest of the world.
When ‘the rest of the world’ starts producing films that manage to get recognition by pushing themselves passed the Hollywood spotlight, you find that each country has a distinguished but subtle unique style. Some are similar, but you can usually identify a British film, a Japanese film, a French film, or in the case of The Loved Ones, an Australian film.
Modern Australian cinema shares similar characteristics to British cinema, but with an element of the grotesque. Not grotesque as in disgusting, but grotesque as in exaggerated. Characters are often presented as caricatures, slightly over the top, and yet utterly raw. Like British cinema, Australia is happy to present every crack of an actor’s skin, the yellow of their teeth and stains on their clothes. But the cinematic universe of Australia is populated with bizarre characters who represent something raw and real, while still remaining a constant exaggeration. You see this across films such Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Muriel’s Wedding (1994), as well as Wolf Creek (2005) and Snowtown (2011). Though the genre differs greatly, the films still encourage a similar feeling of the recognisable grotesque, and this is the same with Byrne’s The Loved Ones.
Anyway, the review.
The Loved Ones is not torture porn, but torture prom… *slow clap*
At the centre of the story is Brent (Samuel) an emotionally damaged teenager who is trying to recover from a tragic event. His mother can no longer look at him and his only solace is his girlfriend, Holly (Thaine). Before leaving school on the day of prom, Brent is approached by Lola (McLeavy) who appears shy and clearly has a thing for him, and so she asks him to prom.
He turns her down and informs her he is going with his girlfriend.
And so Lola has her father kidnap Brent, tie him to a chair, and force him to spend his prom night with her so she can torture him – all in an effort to find the boy of her dreams. I mean, we’ve all thought about it, right?
There’s A LOT of interesting ways to read The Loved Ones. I won’t bore you to death, but I wanted to raise some of them if only as evidence as to why the film is worth your time.
One thing I really enjoyed is the homage to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). This is a biased enjoyment, but I appreciate a film that can take inspiration from one of the best examples of the genre and rather than just remake it or use the inspiration as a way to sell tickets, actually do something creative with it.
The Loved Ones echoes one of the most notorious scenes in horror in which the ‘final girl’ is forced to sit round a dinner table with Leatherface and his family. The scene is a perfect mix of fear and lunacy. The Loved Ones does exactly the same thing, but extends the scene over the course of an hour, giving Bryne time to build some character background on the family Brent is forced to have dinner with.
I also love this concept because it is a situation we can all identify with in some way. That claustrophobic feeling you get when you are in an uncomfortable social situation with no escape. When things suddenly turn from bad to worse and you feel like it will never end…
It also takes an interesting stance on the teenage phenomenon that is ‘prom’.
Bryne’s plot hangs entirely on the concept of ‘prom’, and yet we barely see it. There are three couples in the film, Brent and his girlfriend who never makes it to prom, Brent and Lola who endure a private prom evening at her home, and Jamie (Richard Wilson) and Mia (Jessica McNamee).
Jamie is lucky enough to get a ‘yes’ from Mia when he asks her to prom and he can’t believe his luck. When he picks her up for the evening, she walks to his car in a tight black dress with no smile on her face. Neither of them care about prom, but she would do anything to get out of her house and away from her parents.
The characters of The Loved Ones are engaging with the social convention of prom, but Bryne argues that prom is a toxic idea. Lola is also known as princess, and when she is ready for her prom date, she wears a pink dress, pink make-up and covers herself in glitter. She is the opposite of Mia, and yet neither of them want to take part in the conventional prom. Lola is literally fueled by the toxicity of prom and wears it on her body like armour. She wants a perfect evening and we all know life often has other plans, and so her desperation leads her to literally tie her date down. If he won’t reciprocate her affections, she will torture him with the help of her father, because she deserves butterflies, rainbows, glitter, romantic music and love – though her version of love is something unrecognisable.
In The Loved Ones, prom is just an excuse to dress up, indulge in things for one night only, that perhaps you wouldn’t every day, whether it’s sex, drugs and alcohol, or torture and slow dancing with your dad. Prom itself is nothing profound.
So, as a horror movie, The Loved Ones is a blast. Bryne throws in maybe one-too-many ideas, particularly in terms of Lola, but it is uncomfortable, funny and very nasty. My favourite performance is without question Brumpton as Lola’s Daddy. In so many shots his face speaks for the legions of dads who love their little girls, and despite knowing deep down their little girl is in fact an absolute monster, they refuse to admit it.
It’s also full of totally awesome Halloween costume ideas, which is always a bonus.
I’ve never been to a prom, or a dance, or a ball. Just as well really as they only date I could take is my cat, and my Dad isn’t really built for kidnapping…