October 12, 2010

The Loved Ones (2009)

"When Brent turns down his classmate Lola's invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge."

I have to admit that I'd never even heard of "The Loved Ones" until my Australian friend started posting things about it. In my defence, I don't think Australia has ever been known for a producing a lot of horror films and even Wikipedia only lists forty-four of them (some of which aren't really horror at all). When Australia does horror it can either be very bad or very good unlike Canadian horror, for instance, which dips and rises just around the average level every time. If you've never seen an Australian horror film before in your life then, firstly, shame on you, and, secondly, prepare yourself to either love it or hate it as there really is no inbetween. Aussies, in general, have a similar sick sense of humour to Brits which is often quite a brutal surprise to Americans. I also don't think I've ever seen an Australian movie of any kind yet which conforms to Hollywood derived formulas.

The only recent movie that I can think of which has a similar look and feel to it as "The Loved Ones" is the British "Mum & Dad" (2008). Both were funded with some kind of arts grant and so you can be sure that the creativity involved far outweighs the budget. Even so, neither of these films suffer from the piss-poor shaky-cams of low-budget American independents and have very high production values. Basically, "The Loved Ones" is all about having a good story with lots of tension and decent practical effects. Yeah, old school horror movie making at its best.

The only thing which "The Loved Ones" shares with the American nasties is that you won't have heard of anyone involved in it. Unless you are a Twihard then Xavier Samuel, who plays the lead here, won't even be familiar to you as Riley from "Eclipse". In fact he looks so completely different that you won't even think it was the same actor anyway. The rest of the cast have all been around the Australian TV circuit including the soaps, so you won't know who any of them are either. I find all this anonymity very refreshing, but I don't think Robin McLeavy, who plays Lola, will stay hidden away for much longer. She's fantastic.

The acting is incredibly well done overall. Although all of the characters are either a bit quirky or just downright demented, I didn't spot a weak performance anywhere. It's all played reasonably straight even if there are quite a few intentionally amusing moments and the whole thing is a very black comedy anyway. "The Loved Ones" has a slightly lighter feel to it than "Mum & Dad", but it's still pretty gruesome and twisted. It really is difficult to place into a niche as it isn't as ridiculous as any of Peter Jackson's stuff (and, yes, I do know he's a Kiwi), but it's not as mean-spirited as Sam Raimi's earlier work either. Some scenes do homage both these directors, although it really is an homage and not a blatant rip-off.

I'm sure there'll be a few people who will claim "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" inspired a lot of the scenes too and I can agree with them to a point. If you are going to have any kind of twisted murderous family set-up in a movie then obviously there will be similarities to others in the same subgenre. But just as "Mum & Dad" had more in common with the real life serial killers Fred and Rosemary West than "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" so, too, "The Loved Ones" has undoubtedly been inspired by some of the even more incredible true crimes that have been revealed in the last few years. Abduction and torture are nothing new to the horror genre anyway. No matter how much "torture porn" you've seen, "The Loved Ones" is still something a little bit different.

Before I give away the plot even more than the trailer already does, I need to mention a couple of specific things that stood out for me. The first is the sex scene between Xavier Samuel and Victoria Thaine. If you've already seen "The Loved Ones" then you'll understand exactly where I'm coming from with this. All I'm going to say is "moles" and "razor blade round his neck". To those of you who haven't seen this yet but have seen a certain "Austin Powers" movie, just have a nice long twig at the ready. Yes, I found this scene very distracting but not in the way it was probably intended. If the words, "Bite it off!" escape your lips at any point then you are coming with me straight to Hell, okay?

Second, although I can almost tie up the subplot with Richard Wilson and hot goth chick Jessica McNamee as a kind of nicer parallel to the more horrific events that were going on, I wanted all the characters to come together at the end and I was waiting for something that never happened. The more I think about it, the cleverer it all gets because the story didn't take that too predictable route but maybe it should have done. If there is a flaw then that is it but without the subplot there wouldn't have been some important details filled in either. I'm still undecided on whether it really worked or not.

Anyway, I actually think that "The Loved Ones" is one of the best Australian horror movies that I've seen for a long time. Don't even try to compare it to the crap that was "Wolf Creek" because you don't have to wait until the film is almost over for the action to kick-off here. When things start happening they don't really let up. The "torture porn" elements are far more brutal than anything in the "Hostel" movies, even if most of the real grisliness occurs off camera.

I'm happy to rate "The Loved Ones" as a definite 8 out of 10 based on nothing but the sheer pleasure it gave me to watch it. I always feel that it's a bit of a cop out when people say things like, "Yeah, it was bad but very entertaining" and rate an utterly worthless film higher than it should be just because they have no taste or discernment. "The Loved Ones" is not in that category at all, even if it is a teeny bit superficial. "The Loved Ones" is a film that horror fans will really enjoy because it's actually good, is very well made, and is a quality product all round.

Incidentally, God only knows how Bloody-Disgusting got a mention on the trailer as "The Loved Ones" is a good film, has nothing to do with Platinum Dunes, and doesn't deserve that kiss of death at all. If you've started to ignore recent releases because of biased internet reviewers then stick with everyone in the Horror Blogger Alliance. None of us are paid to review horror movies, we just do it because it's our passion.

I can't honestly say that "The Loved Ones" is particularly scary, and I must admit that I fancied Robin McLeavy a lot more than I really should have but, for the sheer harrowing and inventive brutality, I absolutely loved it. It's not going to make me scared of visiting Australia (the enormous deadly spiders they have there is already enough!) in the way that the "Hostel" films tried to make everyone xenophobic about Europe, but it's certainly going to make me keep an eye on the Australian horror movie scene in case another gem like this ever pops up in the future.

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