Lately whenever Miles and I sit down to watch something I’m immediately like “Let’s watch a horror movie!” because, well, it’s just how I feel, you know? The other night he obliged me with The Loved Ones, an Australian slasher he’d seen at SXSW a few years ago. It covers a decidedly sordid day in the life of teenage metal head Brent (Xavier Samuel), who is still reeling from a car accident that killed his father but left him unscathed. He struggles to emotionally communicate with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) as they’re both getting ready for the big school dance that night. Shy outcast Lola (Robin McLeavy) is dismayed to find out Brent is going with Holly, and concocts a plan to secure his attentions for the evening, in extremely violent fashion. Meanwhile, Brent’s somewhat dorky friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) takes out gorgeous goth Mia (Jessica McNamee), whose brother went missing around the same time as Brent’s accident.
Structurally, The Loved Ones follows the well-worn format of “start small, get progressively more and more fucked up, and give no evidence of how far you will go” to great effect. It works as both a compelling teen drama and a supremely intense thriller, with ample amounts of gore and enough family dysfunction to fuel several soap operas. The performances are excellent, with Robin McLeavy offering an exceptionally devious and crazed turn as the almost-sympathetic but enormously sadistic Lola. Xavier Samuel is also memorable in his believably traumatic experience, essentially operating as a male version of the Final Girl and really making you feel his pain. The whole film is a wry reversal of the common male/female slasher tropes, with Lola serving as a kind of teenage Norman Bates (complete with an Elektra Cmplex). Not everything is so derivative, just toying with these recognizable images in clever ways. I’d say it’s its own kind of fucked up by the end, and writer/director Sean Byrne definitely makes it his own while working within the conventions of the genre.
While the characters and the central narrative definitely held my rapt attention, the b-plot of Jamie and Mia was noticeably weaker, and out of place when set against the main story. I thought the characters were cute and the way Mia fit in to the overarching plot was interesting and relevant, but the many cutaway scenes of their date were just kind of off-putting. I understand the inclination to offer a lighter side story that juxtaposes with the extremely dark happenings of the protagonists, but the two don’t quite mesh. If Byrne had more closely worked in their story to the main one, I think it would have given the film as a whole a better flow. Anyway, it’s generally a minor concern because the rest of this movie is pretty damned rad. AND I would like to note that though a lot of it is watching a teenage boy get hella tortured in really gory ways, I only turned my eyes away like twice because I am getting SO GOOD at horror movies. One day I’ll be a pro and movie gore won’t make me faint in movie theaters anymore because lol that’s happened to me multiple times.
Pair This Movie With: Something about a lonely young woman, romantic longing, and knifey bodily assault combined makes me think of May, which is an amazing movie.