The Loved Ones. Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumton and Victoria Thaine. Directed by Sean Byrne. Rated MA15+ (strong horror violence; strong themes). 84 mins.
As pithy as it is grisly, this smart exercise in Grand Guignol is an impressive debut feature for Tasmanian-born writer-director Sean Byrne. Handsomely filmed in Victoria, it pushes all the right buttons for fans of violent horror and should enjoy great success in that sub-culture of cinemagoers. It has already won a couple of awards at international film festivals.
It is not for the faint-hearted, of course.. But for those with a strong constitution and, let’s face it, an appetite for the gory and the brutal, it stands up against other more expensive productions as one of the most effective scary movies of its kind.
Disbelief must be suspended freely. How can someone who’s had his skull gorily penetrated by a Black & Decker keep functioning and continue to fight back? But in this genre, going over the top is no handicap, more a prized virtue.
Central character is Brent (Xavier Samuel), a teenager in a small town who hasn’t recovered from guilt over his father’s death in a car he was driving. Given to fits of depression and self-mutilation, he relies on his lovely girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) as a force for stability and hope in his life. They seem very happy and are looking forward to the upcoming school dance (“the prom”, if this were an American flick).
Brent’s troubles begin with Lola (Robin McLeavy), a slightly creepy student, asking him to take her to the dance. He says that he’s going with Holly, but his polite rejection is enough to trigger a savage response from Lola. She and her mad-as-a-meataxe father (John Brumpton) kidnap Brent on the afternoon before the dance, drug him and dress him in formal wear to take part in a grotesque travesty of the school dance in their shabby farmhouse kitchen, where supper is chicken in takeaway cartons.
It would spoil things to detail any more of the plot. Suffice it to say there is much cruelty and violence with hammer and nails and knives, the aforesaid electric drill for lobotomies, a hypodermic needle and even a spot of cannibalism.
Byrne handles it all with great gusto and a firm sense of building tension and audience anticipation. His cast is excellent, with McLeavy outstanding in the meatiest role. If there is a major flaw, the sub-plot about a dance-night romance between Brent’s pal Jamie (Richard Wilson) and the town policeman’s goth daughter (Jessica McNamee) peters out with almost no relevance to the main storyline. It could have been more than merely a mild diversion.
But all departments excel in The Loved Ones, particularly Simon Chapman’s cinematography, Robert Webb’s production design and Ollie Olsen’s original music (amidst a lot of commercial tracks by various bands).
Out November 4 2010.
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.