Written and Directed by Sean Byrne
Months removed from a car accident that claimed his father’s life, Brent (Xavier Samuel) finds himself hanging on by a thread. No longer cheerful in demeanor, the youth prefers to spend his time in solitude, drapes himself in metal shirts and flannel and has taken to cutting his flesh with a razor. Only his long time girlfriend Holly can get him to break out of his shell for brief stretches of time.
On the eve of his school’s big dance, class outcast Lola approaches Brent and with a meek voice asks him to be her date. Brent lets the girl down gently, but despite kindly declining her offer he has just made the biggest mistake of his young life.
See, Lola is Daddy’s Princess and whatever Princess wants, she gets.
One kidnapping later, Brent comes to and finds himself bound to a bolted down chair in Lola’s kitchen, all decked out in a tuxedo. Lola’s a vision in her pink prom dress flanked by her doting father and lobotomized mother (referred to only as ‘Bright Eyes’). It becomes clear that this isn’t the first time Lola’s been the Belle of her own ball as her and Daddy proceed to tear into Brent with both physical and mental torture with sadistic glee using any common house hold items readily on hand.
Debuting three years ago in Australia, The Loved Ones makes its American debut on DVD this week. Taking the teen romance formula and flipping it to the puree mode in a blender, Sean Byrne’s film is a gift for hardcore horror fans brimming with wit, tension, puke inducing moments for the squeamish top notch performances across the board and the debut of a new horror icon.
With a stunning turn as the deranged Lola, Robin McLeavy has created an iconic horror villain for the ages. McLeavy plays up the childish aspects of her character, portraying her as a tantrum throwing toddler funneled into the body of a young woman standing on the edge of adulthood. Imagine if Verruca Salt armed with power tools and you have a good starting point. McLeavy plays up the creepy sexual tension that exists between her and her Daddy and Byrne’s more than happy to help out, especially during a moment where the camera lingers on the girl standing in her underwear before changing into her dress while Daddy looks on with a look that mingles sexual frustration and shame. McLeavy portrays Lola just this side over the line of mustache twirling villainy, allowing the audience to see a damaged psyche she keeps hidden from the outside world. She combines a childlike glee and raw sexual energy to the role in a way that captivates viewers while making them uncomfortable for enjoying what they’re seeing at the same time.
Byrne taps into a rich vein of black humor as well. The Loved Ones takes the John Hughes coming of age formula and filters it through the lens of a Tobe Hooper jam. There’s a side plot concerning Brent’s best friend taking the school’s hot gothic girl to the dance that mirrors your typical high school kid trying to get laid storyline. It’s funny enough in its own but cutting in and out of moments where Lola and Daddy are putting Brent through horrific paces give it a wonderful and uncomfortable comic mean streak. The sight of Lola’s rundown kitchen backlit with a twirling disco ball while a homecoming banner hangs in the background provides giggles.
That said, The Loved Ones is not a comedy hybrid, but a dream come true for hardcore horror fiends. It’s a body horror showcase with top notch practical effects and copious amounts of gristle splattered across the screen. As the ‘Daddy’ of the picture, John Brumpton brings the simpering hangdog muscle Lola needs to do her dirty work and drive Brent to the edge of madness. Byrne masterfully builds tension during the kitchen sequences, understanding that the moments before the tool meets the flesh are the ones that sets audiences on edge. When Byrne reveals just how far Lola’s madness extends with an out of left field turn, it proves to be an inspired choice.
Two years. That’s how long I’ve waited to see The Loved Ones. For the film to even meet, let alone exceed my anticipation the film would have to be something special. I’m happy to say this is one time that reality lives up to the hype. The fact that Paramount released steaming turd burger The Devil Inside onto two thousand screens and backed it with a major promotional campaign while sitting on The Loved Ones before dumping it to DVD (no region one blu ray) should be considered a criminal act of negligence. The race for best horror movie of the year is over. Pack your bags and thanks for playing. The Loved Ones is the best horror film you’ll watch this year.