The Loved Ones – Review
When Brent turns down his classmate Lola's invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge.
We are back in Australia for Day 20 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature as we are taking a look at Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones. It’s prom night and Lola doesn’t have a date. That means bad things are in store for one unlucky guy.
Australia has put out some fantastic horror over the years. One thing I notice with Australian horror is that it is often extremely violent and often very grim. The Loved Ones is extremely violent, it is also very grim. The thing that separates The Loved Ones from a lot of other Australian horror, however, is just how funny it is. It offers up a unique sense of dark humour that will tickle you at numerous parts of the movie. Without further ado, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick breakdown of the movie so feel free to skip that if you like.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. Most of these reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
The Loved Ones (2009) – Synopsis
The Loved Ones kicks off with teenager Brent, played by Xavier Samuel, driving with his dad. A battered and bloodied teenage boy walks out in front of the car causing Brent to swerve into a tree. Fast forward a few months and it appears that Brent’s dad was killed in the crash. Brent is now a greasy, edgy kid who hasn’t managed to deal with his grief. He is self harming and dependant on drugs to cope with his feelings.
Prom night is coming up and Brent has decided to go with his girlfriend Holly, played by Victoria Thaine. Lola Stone, played by Robin McLeavy, spots Brent in school and asks him if he would like to go to the prom with her. Brent refuses saying he will be going with Holly.
Holly arrives and Brent gets into her car. The two have sex unaware that Lola is watching. Holly drives Brent home and they decide on a time for Holly to pick him up for the prom. Holly has recently got her license and is worried that Brent’s mum won’t be happy with her driving. He says it will be fine and tells her not to worry.
A Turn of Events – Synopsis Cont.
Brent tells his mum that Holly will be picking him up for the prom. Brent’s mum, still traumatised from her husband’s death in a car crash, tells him that she doesn’t trust Holly to drive him safely and insists he takes a taxi. Brent, upset at his mum’s demands, heads out. Brent struggles up a small cliff face where he contemplates taking his own life. He instead decides to lie on the ground with his dog listening to music.
While sitting on the ground listening to music, someone comes up behind Brent and knocks him unconscious. Noticing the time, Brent’s mum heads out to try and find him. Knowing he will be late for prom she goes to the spot where he likely to be but does not find him there. Holly arrives at Brent’s house and his mum tells her he has gone missing. A short while later the family dog turns up at the door having been stabbed. They realise there is something drastically wrong so contact the local sheriff.
Brent is in the back of a truck having been incapacitated. He his brought into a house that is set up with a disco ball, decorations, and prom banners. Brent is tied up and placed on a chair wearing a suit. His prom night has only just begun and it is about to get a hell of a lot worse.
Another Excellent Australian Horror
Australia really does put out some fantastic horror. Sure, they have some absolute trash as well but they definitely punch above their weight. The Loved Ones is another fine example of this. I would say, however, that The Loved Ones is the least Australian feeling of the Australian horror movies that I have seen. I think there are clear influences from American horror here, more so than other Aussie horror. The Loved Ones is the evil love child spawned by Lucky McKee raw dogging Tarantino while they watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is stylish, horrifically brutal, sharp as a tack and hilarious to boot.
Presenting a serious story of grief before repeatedly piling heaps of bullshit onto the main character, it never really lets up. Rarely do horror movies craft a character with such a traumatic back story only to sit them on a chair and torture them for hours. That is exactly what The Loved Ones does. It aims to shock and amuse the viewer and it does both on a number of occasions.
It is a daring movie, as a whole, and there are a lot of things that shouldn’t work but do. Byrne throws in a bunch of fairly pointless scenes that have only the slightest connection to the story just to add to the laughs. He offers up an antagonist that is hugely charismatic and absolutely twisted and almost dares the viewer not to enjoy every scene she is in. All of this while crafting a tale of trauma, grief, isolation and depression that has you believing it will go in a completely different direction from the one it does. It’s an incredibly fun movie.
Violent Australian Torture Horror
Those Australians sure love their violent horror. It’s almost difficult to bring up movies such as Wolf Creek, Hounds of Love, and Snow Town when discussing this subject. They are based on real life criminals but the sheer brutality of them stays with you after watching. True crime based movies aside, there are a lot of Australian movies that are simply shocking. The Loved Ones falls very much into this category.
Brent is subjected to a significant amount of torture throughout The Loved Ones and Sean Byrne doesn’t hold back at all. He toys with the viewer’s emotions constantly and offers hope only to take it away seconds later. There is some very graphic detail here and some scenes that will likely make you grit your teeth. It is a brutal movie and even somewhat creative in how it delivers that brutality. My partner and I have watched it a number of times and are still shocked by some of the scenes.
It goes without saying that the torture element is at the forefront for much of the movie’s 84 minutes. The camera shots indulge in the trauma caused by Lola. Characters spend a significant amount of time building anticipation before delivering on the promise of violence in a horrifying way. The injuries inflicted look extremely realistic and nothing is done with a hint of cartoon exaggeration. The maniacal nature of Lola and just how much she seems to be enjoying herself has you terrified for what she might do next. She is an unrelenting monster and has absolutely no sympathy for her victims. She aims to cause only pain and is very good at it.
Horror Comedy Gold
The Loved Ones is an absolutely fantastic mix of torture horror and comedy. This really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Someone being subjected to a ton of violence should make for a pretty bleak movie but there are so many funny moments in The Loved Ones. Lola is legitimately hilarious at times. The camera work and character reactions only add to the comedy. The element of comedy timing is perfect.
There is a lot of focus placed on Brent’s friend Jamie, played by Richard Wilson. He has managed to grab a date with a big tiddy goth girl, Mia played by Jessica McNamee. Nearly every scene they are in is played almost entirely for laughs. It is reminiscent of something from an American Pie movie or Superbad and should be fairly out of place in a movie like this. It’s actually, however, a much needed relief from the brutal torture element of the film. Jamie had me laughing my arse off on a number of occasions and Mia is the perfect straight woman for him.
Perhaps a Little Too Funny?
It could be argued that the comedy perhaps takes away from the serious nature of the movie. Some of the scenes featuring Mia and Jamie are maybe an unwanted distraction from what is happening with Lola and Brent. We do lose a little of the action so we can check up on the two. It is possible that this breaks up the flow a little.
I am sure some people would prefer if there was no comedy element at all and I can understand that. I would disagree with that sentiment, however, as The Loved Ones would be a completely different movie without the laughs. It is a bold choice to feature so much comedy but I believe it pays off and makes The Loved Ones stand out from other mindless torture horror.
Creatively Filmed and a Standout Performance
As I mentioned above, The Loved Ones is a stylish movie. There are lots of creative camera shots and interesting ways to highlight character’s emotions. Closeups of Lola laughing maniacally perfectly highlight how insane she is and there are some fantastic editing methods use to reflect Brent’s suffering.
The grimness of the home where the violence takes place contrast brilliantly with the hot pink of Lola’s dress. It creates a nice visual representation of the dichotomy between the way Lola sees herself and the horrific crimes she commits. Glitter and streamers adorn a poorly cared for home in a serious state of disrepair. It makes for a striking visual.
There is one scene in particular where a bright pink stereo, old and covered in dirt, plays a song about unrequited love. This serves as a perfect introduction to Lola herself given her cute aesthetic yet hideous personality. Her dad calls her princess and that’s exactly how she sees herself.
This brings me nicely on to the performance of Robin McLeavy as Lola. She is absolutely fantastic and portrays a maniac incredibly well. You entirely buy into the idea that she is a dangerous girl who can’t be compromised with and is doing this just for fun. Certain scenes featuring her laughing and full of joy at harming Brent are simply brilliant. She is the star of the show and a big part of me wishes the movie was 15 minutes longer just so that we could see more of her.
A Few Issues
There will definitely be a few horror fans that don’t enjoy the comedy aspect of The Loved Ones. It leans into it fully and is uncompromising in its commitment to making the viewer laugh. Some likely would have preferred a more serious movie. I think the sheer violence and brutality of the movie will definitely upset a few viewers. Some of the scenes are honestly shocking and you will likely find yourself turning away from the action on screen. The unrated version is even worse with one scene in particular being incredibly difficult to watch.
There are going to be a ton of viewers that don’t see the point in Mia and Jamie’s side story as well. It is little more than a distraction from the main story, albeit a funny one. It has the loosest of connections to the events going on and is fairly redundant.
An Underwhelming End
I didn’t particularly enjoy the ending and found it to be fairly unsatisfying. It seems to come out of nowhere. If you are anything like me, you will be wishing they stripped 10 minutes from the relatively boring opening to add to the middle of the movie. I don’t give a toss about Brent looking edgy and unwashed! I need more Lola in my life. The ending does descend into absolute farce in places, as well. I noticed a distinct nod to The People Under The Stairs and, while I love that film, it just felt ridiculous here. The last 15 minutes are the weakest and most predictable of the entire movie.
I will point out that I found Brent to be an underwhelming character. A good looking dude that looks every part the lead in a teen horror. His edginess will likely make you cringe pretty hard. A scene where he squeezes a razor blade in his hand until it bleeds is horribly awkward. He is the very definition of what everyone assumes an emo kid would be and it is painful to watch. That is coming from a guy with messy black hair who still wears eyeliner in 2022, as well, so perhaps pot calling kettle but I found his character difficult to care about. I understand he has been through grief but a slight change in the way he looked and acted would have gone a long way.
Is it a Knockout?
The Love Ones is a brutal, stylish, and often hilarious horror movie from the twisted mind of Sean Byrne. Horrific in parts, insanely funny in others. The Loved Ones buries a tale about grief, loss, and depression beneath piles of nails, hammers, cordless drills and gallons of blood.
Some may not appreciate the commitment to making the viewer laugh. Others may not appreciate the intense gore and detailed violence. If you enjoy sadistic horror with a sharp sense of humour then you absolutely have to check out The Loved Ones. It should be a cult hit for decades to come.