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The Loved Ones

tn_lovedonesTHE LOVED ONES is a 2009 Australian horror picture about five teenagers on the night of the End of School Dance. Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a broody long-haired dude haunted by a recent personal tragedy. He goes for a walk before the dance and disappears, his mom and girlfriend figure something bad happened to him and try to find him. Only we know that a local psycho (John Brumpton) hit him over the head and brought him home for his daughter Lola (Robin McLeavy), who had asked Brent to the dance and been turned down.

This is yet another twist on the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE setup: once again a victim (this time male) wakes up to find himself a forced participant in a demented parody of a traditional family dinner. Instead of force-feeding him human meat they give him what you could reasonably assume was roadkill of some kind. In this one there’s a prom theme, so he’s been put into a tux and there’s a disco ball.

mp_lovedonesSomehow I have a harder time believing a sort of cute looking young girl like this as a Jeffrey Dahmer type than if it was some gross sweaty adult man. The combination psychotic/cute aesthetic is fun but goofy enough to keep the horror from hitting me in the gut. Still, this daughter and father combo is really interesting. There’s a disgusting sexual tension between them. It seems like the dad doesn’t mind stabbing people and hitting them with hammers but draws the line at succumbing to his attraction to his daughter. When she starts doing suggestive or sexually abusive things to Brent right in front of him dad doesn’t stop her, but looks upset, and I’m guessing more from jealousy than from fatherly duty.

Lola, meanwhile, is very jealous of Bright Eyes (Anne Scott-Pendlebury), a seemingly lobotomized old lady who acts as dad’s date at the dinner table, and is probly her mom, but might just be somebody they kidnapped before. She’s a slightly less gross and more tragic version of Grandpa in the Texas Chain Saw movies, and here this young girl is competitive with her, always doing mean things to her and making little pointed comments. It’s great.

If this was limited to this horrific mini-prom here it would be only okay, but the larger world of the movie is what makes it good and makes the far-fetched premise easier to swallow. Without ever coming out and saying it this is a set of characters dealing with traumas in different ways. Before shit meets fan there’s a vague, unexplained joke about some “emotional breakdown” in Lola’s past. Whatever it was, her and her dad have been taking it out on a whole lot of innocent people. By my count there are 5 other characters dealing with past traumas, but most of them take it out on themselves, habitually punishing themselves for things they have no control over.

From the perspective of an ’80s teen movie, Brent’s goofball friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) scored big when he got Mia (Jessica McNamee) to go to the dance with him. They get drunk and stoned and laid. She’s angry and acting out and maybe to him it’s kinda hot but he’s also having trouble even talking to her and we see the larger context of what her and her parents are going through so the whole thing becomes sad.

These characters are linked in ways that aren’t apparent at first, and you piece it together as it’s revealed through their conversations and things. You begin to understand why one character called another character when Brent was missing, why he reacted the way he did, etc. Nothing against the old NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET type scene where the kids go to the library (now internet) and look up old newspaper articles, or the SCREAM version where everyone knows about a local crime and talks about it or sees it on the news, but this way of unrolling the backstory is more effective. It creates suspense and moments of revelation and at least once you get to discover a secret at the same time as a character does.

THE LOVED ONES is artfully photographed and scored and has good, understated performances. It doesn’t have that slick mainstream feel of the various teen horror movies that came after SCREAM. Still, the young good looking actors and the cutesy “she just wants to go to prom” premise made me feel relatively safe that it was all in good fun. Then they tied the poor guy to a chair and started carving him up with a fork, and not in a funny way. In the gory slasher movies of old the horrific moments were usually over quick, like, there’s a big buildup to when a guy suddenly gets slashed and his intestines poor out and he’s screaming and then it cuts to a new scene. This one, they got the guy captive from early on, doing horrible things that I won’t give away except for one: they literally pour salt on his wounds. Well, more like throw. But it’s alot of damn salt, and it gets worse after that. It’s grueling.

Does this say something about the brutality of modern horror, the desensitization of today’s youths, the savageness of Australia? My guess is that it’s just the age of horror we’re in. They used to call it “torture porn,” now I think they just call it “horror.” It’ll probly swing back to clean PG-13 ghost movies at some point and we’ll be begging for salt on the wounds.

I should say that like pretty much any movie like this there are parts where he gets loose and there’s a chase and stuff, that’s the more fun horror I prefer. And the “torture” part isn’t “porn” at all. It’s the story. He’s this traumatized, depressed kid, we see how he’s cut himself up a whole bunch, he thinks about suicide. Now he has to withstand other people cutting him up, and he has to fight for this life that he previously thought he didn’t even want. So he has something huge to gain from this experience if he can survive.

I could list a couple of disgusting things that happen in the movie, but it’s the little moments that stand out to me. Like the part where the dad is chasing Brent in a car and crashes into a tree. Not just because it’s given meaning by its reflection of a crucial earlier event, but also because the dad takes a moment to examine the damage to his car before he continues the chase. Or even the scene where Brent’s girlfriend Holly comes home and lays down on her bed. She’s still wearing her fancy dance dress and shoes, but she never got to the dance, she spent the whole night looking for her boyfriend, and failed. And she just breaks down crying. It’s a touching moment in a genre not usually this sympathetic toward girlie-girls who don’t have any blood on them yet.

THE LOVED ONES unfortunately hasn’t come out in the U.S., but there’s a region 2 PAL dvd that I rented. I guess “The Loved Ones” is also the name of an Australian band, I’m not sure what significance that has so maybe us Region 1ers can’t be trusted to understand the reference. We would’ve got it if it was “Men At Work” but unfortunately there was already a movie under that title.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011 at 11:47 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “The Loved Ones”

  1. Great review Vern. I got to interview Robin McCleavy when the film came out last year and she was really sweet to talk to. As you say, lots of cool little moments I liked the battle of wills between Brent and Lola, the “realistic” approach to the torture scenes (the drill “spinning off”), Brent’s girlfriend’s reaction to his appearance.
    The whole subplot with Brent’s mate and his date with Mia feels like it’s part of a different film, until the story starts joining the dots and you realise how they are linked to the same situation. That final dolly shot and payoff is great too.

  2. Im thinking the title might refer to this INXS song

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFzNhImSngQ

  3. This doco was great, was filmed just near me. Very fair of a country Deb too.

  4. Great movie. I’d be reluctant to say Australia is having a horror renaissance but between this and Wolf Creek we’re finally realising that bogan culture lends itself brilliantly to horror…

  5. If this is a horror renaissance then mebbe you havn’t seen Roadkill. Wasted cos as far as I know road trains (semi trailers with 4 trailers) are unique to Australia and make for good tension and horror all by themselves when they pass you at 160km/h with the force of jetliner. Totally wasted.

    The most quintessentially Australian horror to be released in the last few years is without any shadow of a doubt “I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer” YOU MUST watch this trailer and you will see: http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi741933849/

    Primal was alright – The Horsemen was a good Australian first IMO at professional gore porn. Van Dieman’s Land was really quite good as a cannibal movie in that its beautifully shot and fairly accurate from what I read, and feels realistic given the time and place. Rogue is not so recent anymore but a must watch (croc movie) if you havn’t seen it. Lake Mungo was for me really very watchable ghost movie, another afterdark flick (along with roadkill).

    But yeah, watch the trailer above and then download it if you can’t buy it in US after all this time. It’s as Australian as a movie can get and it’s fucking awesome!

  6. Just to correct myself – I just remembered Storm Warning was Australian and that (surprisingly very watchable film) surely has to be have been the first professional Australian gore porn.

  7. so is this gonna be like “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and wind up never coming out legally on dvd?

  8. PRIMAL – Where savage pointy-toothed monster people get down doggystyle without ever unbuttoning their pants. You can’t properly stalk and terrorize your former friends with your dong hanging out.

  9. “Somehow I have a harder time believing a sort of cute looking young girl like this as a Jeffrey Dahmer type than if it was some gross sweaty adult man.”
    If TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t judge a book by its cover…some of the time.

  10. AU – I agree with your take on Roadkill – great photography, horrible story which just doesn’t make a lick of sense…Van Diemens Land is probably one of the most bleak films I’ve seen in a while.

  11. Wow, I remember when this first came out, but it didn’t come into any cinemas near me. Good to know it’s on Region 2, although I can’t believe it’s not out in Region 1 yet. (Why is that fucking region-coding thing still even legal again?)We’re Region 2 over here so I’ll look out for it.

    Also what the hell was wrong with “Roadkill”? I’ve got that one solidly in my “unexpected gems” mental category. It even gets an interesting performance out of Paul Walker.

  12. That was Road Kill not Roadkill…

  13. Yeah the one we’re referring to has two couples of teens being attacked by a demonic road train. The characters are hateful, the “demonic” aspect of the truck is done with terrible CGI and the whole concept never convinces. Having said that, there is some really good cinematography.

    I was surprised that The Loved Ones never made it to the US on DVD. It hit a lot of film festivals last year and was well received. I can imagine the drill sequence would have played great in a midnight screening…

  14. was paul walker in a movie called ROADKILL? are you sure you’re not thinking of JOY RIDE?

  15. never mind, just saw that JOY RIDE was called ROAD KILL in the uk.

  16. Angela Bettis in MAY was one cute looking young girl who I believed was a Jeffrey Dahmer type. A very nuanced performance. That movie probably wouldn’t have been as good if the role of May was played by some gross sweaty adult man.

  17. Mike / Au / Gary – damn these International name changes, eh?

    Never heard of the other “Roadkill” movie you guys are discussing, but it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d be interested in anyway.

  18. Also I’ve watched a lot of Australian horror recently, and I’m liking a lot of what I’m seeing. Yeah, I didn’t like “Wolf Creek”, but in terms of production and cinematography it looked great. “Rogue” was fantastic of course, as was “Dark Water”. Aussie cinema in general seems to have come very much on my radar recently, and there’ve been a lot of little gems coming from that direction.

  19. Mebbe it is a horror renaissance here afterall. I forgot about The Reef which was pretty well done, but I just watched Snowtown tonight which trust me you guys will be talkin about at some stage and mebbe even a Vern review. Take out all the thriller and horror elements and it’s a fucking harsh watch with its clear window on Australian scum suburban life. Aside from that, the film happens to also be about our most notorious serial killer (more prolific than our Ivan Milat as portrayed in Wolf Creek and much more motivated – sort of an inverse Ted Bundy): enjoy http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1680114/

  20. Iron Gardener (formerly AU, AU_Armegeddon, etc. etc.)

    October 22nd, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I just gotta add “Panic at Rock Island” as an Australian horror version of Outbreak as actually being more Australian and more watchable than I expected.

    Also, while here and since no assholes are using this thread cos you are all prolly too busy crying about how much you hated the last 20 movies and shows you watched such as Walkin Dead and Sons of Anarchy cos they got no characters etc. etc. but you all love The Wire cos the bandwagon does, I gotta share an Aussie show. Australians are not very good at TV but we did a couple right and a current one is particularly well done – Underbelly Razor is the story of the gangland razor wars of 1927 till 1936 when organised crime first began in Australia particularly run by two crime gangs, both lead by women. In that day and age. Great acting, real stories, great characters, amazing detail – and fucking vicious, and not likely to come to rest of world for years if ever I imagine. Anyways, way better than ‘The Wire’ which is quite watchable but classic a example of dipshit critics and hordes of wannabes tugging each other off in massive circle jerks. If keen, you can watch online here: http://channelnine.ninemsn.com.au/underbelly/

  21. Entertaining movie, this. Does a good job minimalizing the dialoguetational aspects in favor of plain imagery & grunting. A scared father/torturer can say a lot just by grabbing a hammer from the drawer and placing it next to his dinner plate. Even the older school administrator/prom chaperone guy could have said a lot more, but the indignant yet surprisingly patient look on his face said a lot without extraneous words. I liked that character.

    And that one song that plays like 3 times is pretty freaky.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdflARH06dY

    SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS

    There’s one especially gorgeous bit of cinematography at around the 71 minute mark. The stills

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/the-loved-ones/w448/the-loved-ones.jpg?1289436605
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_HxebsyYefw/T7crmXol5lI/AAAAAAAAAT0/cZPRe6Qk2Wo/s1600/The_Loved_Ones_Poster.jpg

    don’t quite do it justice — the striking width & simmering silence of the shot is what makes it nifty, playing into the inversion of controlling-psycho-to-desperate-psycho, and during the movie the pink dress has an airy quality that somehow blends with the environment while also sticking out like a, um, well, like a bright pink dress in rural Australia.

    And after a couple other things happen, her pink dress takes on a more deeply ironic ridiculousness, as she crawls toward her victims/attackers in a manner that recalls the poor dog her father injured earlier. At this point, she’s a manimal, much like her basement captives, but she & her victims in the dark don’t earn nearly as much sympathy as the actually animal that was injured — the poor little guy is the saddest story of them all, the only character I totally sympathize with.

    Anyway, I liked THE LOVED ONES. Didn’t *love* it, not enough to definitely say yes if it asked me out to the big dance, but enough that I would at least spray myself with lysol after smoking a J before meeting her dad in the driveway.

  22. you can do a double bill with this film and Muriel’s wedding.

  23. grimgrinningchris

    January 4th, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Very glad to see you reviewed this, Vern.

    I bought this movie blind the other day at a discount store when I was super stoned and on a binge of buying junk food and “new shit to watch” and finally watched it last night and my feelings on the movie are very parallel to yours.

    I’m bummed that a movie this good sat around unreleased in the US for so long and now haunts the cut out bins at discount stores… and as such, I had never even heard of it.

    Great, fun, upsetting, interesting and well put together movie.
    Looks like the writer/director has a new one this year that sounds like it will be worth a go as well. Here’s looking forward to 2020 at BIG LOTS.

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