The Loved Ones (2009)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #182

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 4 November 2010 (Australia)
Sub-Genre: Exploitation/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: Australia, France
Budget: $4,000,000
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Sean Byrne
Producer: Mark Lazarus, Michael Boughen
Screenplay: Sean Byrne
Special Effects: Angelo Sahin, Justin Dix
Visual Effects: Julian Dimsey
Cinematography: Simon Chapman
Score: Ollie Olsen
Editing: Andy Canny
Studios: Screen Australia, Omnilab Media, Ambience Entertainment, Film Victoria
Distributors: Insurge Pictures, Optimum Releasing, Madman Entertainment
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Andrew S. Gilbert, Suzi Dougherty, Victoria Eagger, Anne Scott-Pendlebury, Fred Whitlock


Suggested Audio Candy

Kasey Chambers “Not Pretty Enough”

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Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Never a truer word said and if you should doubt this at all then I would urge you to watch Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones for a refresher course on just how that fury manifests. Take two parts Pretty In Pink and one part Misery and you’re probably in the right ball court and if that seems like an uneven mix then maybe it is but Byrne does a fine job of fusing the two together. If you ever felt the personal heartbreak of having your love unrequited then you will understand just how much it can smart. As an adolescent that pain is that much more potent and the world can feel as though it is falling away, such is the desperate feeling of anguish it provokes. When the object of your affection chooses another and knocks back your advances it can admittedly cause to fits of jealous rage. Nothing like this however.

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The Loved Ones tells the tale of Brent (Xavier Samuel) a troubled teen in his senior year who is still attempting to fathom the death of his father six months earlier, which he feels responsible for. His forlorn mother is also struggling to deal and is still in a constant state of dejection. School prom is imminent and he has already made plans to go with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) but this doesn’t stop outcast Lola (Robin McLeavy) trying her hand at wooing him over. When she receives a big fat no from her potential plaything she takes matters into her own hands and, along with her demented daddy (John Brumpton) she knocks him out and takes him back to her house on the outskirts of town for her very own ‘prom party’.

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Now if you ever possessed a Barbie doll then you will be aware of how delightful it can be having your own loyal subject to dress, adorn with gifts and make your very own. Other darker souls may have more twisted memories and recall twisting their heads off and customizing them in a manner far less genteel. Lola belongs to the latter and when her doting daddy prepares her very own personal plaything she has the bloodiest of designs. The pair, whose relationship is worryingly close I might add, put hapless Brent through the ringer, inflicting all manner of physical and psychological torment on their new subject and it becomes clear that he is not so special. They have performed this ritual numerous times before whilst searching for the perfect beau for daddy’s little princess. Ironically, it appears that their previous exploits were responsible for the road accident which claimed his father. As if the guy wasn’t already scoffing down a shit sandwich!

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As events play out and the teen is forced to endure some pretty tough love from his freshly crowned prom queen, Byrne cuts to his best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) who has somehow managed to snag Gothic hotty Mia (Jessica McNamee) and is enjoying an entirely different prom experience as he attempts to get her stoned enough to forget her melancholy for a moment and get down to some good all-American mischief. Brent really grabs the shit end of the stick here and the torturous treatment he endures is in stark contrast to his pal’s misadventures. This intriguing sub-plot lightens the tone and is probably responsible for The Loved Ones receiving an MA15+ rating as opposed to the original R18+ rating originally dished out.

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It is when Lola and her pops begin to go a little bat shit crazy and the cordless drill is given a hilariously wince-inducing run-out that the grue begins to pour and when it does Byrne’s movie reveals just how black its heart is amongst all the pink hearts and flowers. Whilst never obtrusive, there is plentiful bloodletting on offer, with added sprinkles of glitter. In addition, the family home is garishly lit and festooned with balloons, streamers and banners as opposed to the dank hell holes ordinarily used for such heinous wrong-doings. The contrast right through is commendable and this also stretches through to the lead performers.

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Brent is tortured and beaten on one hand whilst also showing true survivor’s instinct and the desire to turn the tables on his antagonists. The forsaken Lola appears sweet and very much pretty in pink but in actuality she is a monster and could well be the ultimate date from hell. McLeavy’s commanding turn as our princess is perfectly pitched between bubblegum and cyanide and gets progressively more twisted and insane as the movie wears on. Andy Canny’s editing is truly masterful and Byrne’s use of snazzy camera angles and hard-hitting slow motion impresses, as does the glorious score. Kasey Chambers’ unforgettable Not Pretty Enough plays out throughout proceedings and begins as a sickly sweet piece of pop confectionery but, by the time Lola has shown her true colors, it begins to sound a lot less frothy and benign.

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The Loved Ones astonishingly nose-dived at the Australian box office and took its sweet time getting picked up for distribution outside of its native country which completely dumbfounds me as it is easily strong enough to have justified a wider theatrical release. It doesn’t break any new ground but what it does effortlessly is marry the coming-of-age teen flick with sheer unremitting horror and that balancing act is one which Byrne manages with impressive ease. As a date movie however, it fucking sucks!

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Am I not gory enough? Yes would be the answer to that poser and, whilst never gratuitous, The Loved Ones features more than enough spilled crimson to sate most appetites for grue. Although willing to show the monstrosities for the most part, occasionally Byrne shows restraint and, when this happens, the sickening use of audio more than justifies his decision.

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