Love hurts. Scottish rockers, Nazareth, got it right in the 1970s. And nothing’s worse than teenage love. All those raging hormones … a broken heart in your teens can feel like the end of the world. And just how many teen movies have played out these stakes at the grandest tradition of high school – the prom? Not surprisingly, the horror genre knows the pains of broken hearts and the prom all too well. Before Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne delivered the underrated heavy metal, The Devil’s Candy, he took audiences to the prom. Almost. Like The Devil’s Candy, The Loved Ones flew under the radar. But it’s no less compelling or brutal. And critics were wholly impressed.
After a tragic car accident kills his father, Brent retreats into music and drugs. Even his girlfriend feels kept at a distance. But when Brent politely rejects Lola Stone – a quiet and awkward girl – after she asks him to the prom, his life takes a horrific turn. Instead of a magical prom night, Brent finds himself bound to a chair as a subject of Lola’s twisted fantasy.
The Loved Ones Exceeds Its Premise With Uncomfortable Horror
In his debut movie, writer and director Sean Byrne keeps things simple. At face value, The Loved Ones sounds like about half dozen other movies released at the tail end of the ‘Torture Porn’ craze. To some extent, its a potential criticism not too far removed from the movie. But it’s all in the execution. What Bryne delivers in just under 90 minutes is a tense, emotional endurance test with clear stakes. The Loved Ones wastes little time setting its story in motion and putting Brent in harm’s way. Even if we’ve seen similar scenes in other movies, Byrne finds ways to make Brent’s suffering increasingly distressful for audiences. Hints of incest and cannibalism heighten the movie’s disturbing approach to scares while never descending into outright exploitation.
Even if we’ve seen similar scenes in other movies, Bryne finds ways to make Brent’s suffering increasingly distressful for audiences.
Arguably, what elevates The Loved Ones above most ‘Torture Porn’ or exploitation fare is its attention to the human elements of its story. From its opening scene, Byrne introduces a tragedy that connects all of his characters. Though a subplot involving Brent’s friend, Jamie, on a prom date with an aloof Goth girl, Mia Valentine, seems irrelevant, Bryne emotionally ties everything together. As compared to many other horror movies, The Loved Ones reminds audiences of the damage and emotional wreckage that follows violent acts. It’s a subtle aspect of the movie – particularly when contrasted with the violence – but it creates more audience investment. Simply put, The Loved Ones quiet ending wouldn’t work without this focus.
The Loved Ones Boasts a Terrifying Villain in Pink
In addition to Byrne’s deft handling of the materials, the performances uniformly exceed expectations. As the deranged ‘Lola Stone’, Robin McLeavy (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) mesmerizes with a deranged performances. She hits a broad range that makes her character disarmingly dangerous. In fact, McLeavy’s performance recalls Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning turn as Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Moreover, Lola’s relationship with her father, played by John Brumpton, lends a further creepy factor to the movie. Despite his schlumpy appearance, Brumpton ensures his doting father nearly approaches the same level of menace as his own daughter. Byrne only teases the inappropriate nature of the father-daughter relationship, but it’s still enough to make the skin crawl.
McLeavy’s performance recalls Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning turn as Misery’s Annie Wilkes.
Even if McLeavy and Brumpton’s performances are the centerpiece of the movie, the remaining cast members are no less strong. As Brent, Xavier Samuel (Bait 3D) shoulders a tough role given that he’s voiceless for much of the movie. But he turns in an emotional intensity fitting of his character arc. After all, it’s Brent’s story – from despondent and ready to give up on life to desperately fighting to survive – that ultimately defines the movie. Richard Wilson, playing ‘Brent’s’ hapless friend, ‘Jamie’, adds some much needed levity. And while her role is small, Jessica McNamee (The Meg) delivers one of The Loved Ones’ most heartbreaking moments. .
The Loved Ones a Horror Movie Deserving of More Attention
Like The Devil’s Candy, The Loved Ones feels like a horror movie deserving of more attention. It’s a tautly paced, disturbing thriller that never forgets to invest its story with emotional stakes. All the performances defy what you’d expected from the movie’s premise. Simply put, writer and director Sean Byrne takes audiences on a gut-wrenching, and often distressing, roller-coaster ride. Not enough horror fans are aware of The Loved Ones. And Bryne needs to make more movies because what he’s done to date suggests he’s capable of more great things.