Mania Review: The Loved Ones (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, September 14, 2012
Some horror films strike for the jugular. They come in hard and they come in fast; their plan is to startle the hell out of you. Violin chords rising sharply out of a solid wall of silence, mere milliseconds before the jump scare triggers your heart to hammer hard into second gear. This is the mark of amateur horror happy hour. Real fear grows it's roots in the rich soil of dread. The compulsion for flight is strongest when we're faced with the inevitability of death, but a pounding pulse clouds the head, and adrenaline can push terror aside. It's become the rare horror film that slowly ratchets up unbearable terror, leading the viewer to the point where no more is tolerable, then shoving us over. The Loved Ones, (like many recent independent horror films of the past few years) is built from that mold, though it walks a bloodied razor's edge between dread and absurdity.
This Australian horror flick is the story of high schooler Brent (Xavier Samuel), who's involved in a car crash with his dad during the opening of the film. While he survives bodily intact, his mind is cracked by the death of his father. To cope with his guilt, and the emotional shell that's now his mom, Brent turns to drugs, heavy metal, and cutting himself with the razor blade necklace he wears. His only bright spot is Holly (Victoria Thaine), his supportive, drop dead gorgeous girlfriend. She's just gotten her driver's license and is going to take Brent to prom, when class oddity, Lola (Robin McLeavy), asks to go with him instead. Rebuffing her gently, this is the sort of thing which would lead to wacky revenge hijinks in a teen film. This being horror cinema, he's about to be paid back in awful, brutal and sadistic ways. The full gravity of the situation only becomes clear in the last five minutes, despite how depraved it seems along the way. Being crowned prom king has never been so horribly rewarded.
Despite the description, The Loved Ones never drops to torture porn levels. This is a good thing. The restraint shown allows the mounting dread to hover, ready to drop like a guillotine blade at any moment. It's a highly effective tension builder. The ordeal is harrowing, with viewers genuinely feeling for Brent, and loathing his sadistic captors. There's smart camera work on display here, which works in concert with the madness on display. It further sells the hopelessness of our protagonist's plight. The black comedy elements hold the film back from delving to truly terrifying levels, but they also work as a tension breaker, allowing a moment to breath between the crazy. As with exercise, the recover respites are critical; they allow us to back away from the tension for, if only for a moment, which makes it that much more frightening when we're brought back in.
When all is said and done, The Loved Ones is a harrowing experience offering some thrills, a modicum of wicked grins, and a journey with a twisted ending. Although this Aussie film came out in 2009, it's only just become available this week in the States. There,s no high definition version available, but the DVD looks good and the colors pop (there are some surprisingly vibrant scenes). The special features are of the standard variety: cast interviews, commentary track, trailer, and a segment with the gore fx guy. Which ever flavor you choose, DVD or VOD, definitely check this one out. It's unique in a sea of sameness.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out on Twitter.
Mania Grade: B
Title: The Loved Ones
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson
Written By: Sean Byrne
Directed By: Sean Byrne
Original Year of Release: 2012