The Loved Ones (2009)
By: Julian on April 2, 2011  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | | English Dolby Digital 5.1 | 88 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Jessica McNamee, Victoria Thaine
Screenplay: Sean Byrne
Country: Australia
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Sean Byrne's debut feature The Loved Ones is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best local genre entries of the past decade, if not the best. That's no easy feat with the likes of The Horseman, Animal Kingdom, Storage and The Proposition competing, but there it is. Writer/director Byrne's remarkably nuanced effort about a girl and her obsession (the cover slick describes the film, not altogether inaccurately, as a cross between Pretty in Pink and Wolf Creek) is a powerhouse in every respect. The highlight is Robin McLeavy, who turns in an exceptional performance as our beautifully twisted antagonist.

Lola (McLeavy), 'Princess' to her adoring father (John Brumpton), is like every normal high school girl in many respects: the school dance is coming up, and she's worried about whether the boy she loves is going to invite her. The object of her affections is Brent (Xavier Samuel), a lad afflicted with demons: his father died in a car accident during which Brent was the driver, and aside from the interactions he has with his mother and friend Jamie (Richard Wilson), he is withdrawn and suicidal.

Also like every normal high school girl, Lola is shattered when Brent rejects her invitation to the formal; he's going with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). However, unlike every normal high school girl, Lola gets her daddy to kidnap Brent, tie him up in their dining room, and put on a school dance of their own, attended only by Lola, Daddy, and an old, lobotomised woman Bright Eyes (Anne Scott-Pendleberry).

The Loved Ones is a short film, running for 81 minutes with credits, but this is by no means a one-dimensional effort: Byrne takes advantage of the brevity by largely remaining in two locations (the school dance with Jamie and his date Mia (Jessica McNamee) and the makeshift school dance, with a sadistic Lola and a terrified Brent) and he creates a remarkably multi-faceted storyline. Parts of the story that seem unnecessary (I'm talking particularly about the focus on Mia, the quiet Goth daughter of the local copper) fall into place by the time the credits roll, and other parts will only be picked up on second or third viewings.

This is of course a horror film, but the way in which Byrne develops some of the key relationships – Lola and Daddy, whose incestuous ideations he keeps bottled up; Brent and Holly, the cute girl-next-door who struggles in her support of her self-harming boyfriend; Brent and his grieving mother, who can't quite spit out that she blames Brent for her husband's death; and Jamie and Mia, who carries a weight on her shoulders no less than any of our other protagonists – show a maturity in plot that is only exhibited in the best examples of the genre.

The Loved Ones isn't a violent film, but it certainly is a viscerally confronting one, which is further testament to Byrne's abilities as a director. Sly camerawork and editing makes the viewer think that they are being subjected to far more than they actually are, and this probably encouraged the Classification Board to award this an R18+ rating at first instance. The decision was appealed down (the film wasn't cut) to an MA15+, because the Board recognised that the film's humour mitigated its impact. A vein of black comedy runs like a river of blood through The Loved Ones, and while it certainly can't be called a horror-comedy, there are some uneasy laugh-out-loud moments – Lola's condescending deference to Bright Eyes, Jamie's politesse in the face of a brutally antisocial Mia, et al.

The moral of The Loved Ones, according to Xavier Samuel, is "if the slightly odd girl at school asks you to the dance, say yes". On its face, that's certainly the story that the film is telling (and that quote by Samuel lets you in a little bit on the film's comedic undertones). However, there's a lot more to The Loved Ones than just McLeavy's weirdo, and this is exemplified on subsequent viewings. Tasmanian-born director Sean Byrne has helmed a phenomenal film here – confronting, multi-faceted and intelligent. He, as well as everyone else involved in this masterpiece, have a bright future.
The Loved Ones is presented in 2.35:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It looks terrific.
One English audio track, presented in 5.1 Dolby, with subtitles for the hearing impaired. A brilliantly creepy score by Melburnian rock and electronica composer Ollie Olsen exceptionally complements Byrne and DP Simon Chapman's visuals.
Extra Features
Madman, using their horror sub-label Asylum, has assembled an excellent set – but for such a brilliant local film released by such a brilliant local distributor, we wouldn't expect any less. There's a commentary by Byrne; two of the director's earlier short films, Advantage and Ben, both of which are a great watch; a 24-minute making-of featurette; a 16-minute Q&A from the Toronto Film Festival; interviews with McLeavy (7-minutes), Samuel (8-minutes), Brumpton (6-minutes), McNamee (4-minutes), art director Robert Webb (7-minutes), SFX supervisor Jason Dix (8-minutes) and Byrne (10-minutes); a 6-minute goof reel; four trailers for The Loved Ones and trailers for other Asylum releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I find it very hard to fault this film. As a horror picture, it works on every level: the comedy, the performances, the effects, and the visceral terror that Byrne evokes with ease. Similarly, I struggle to fault the set that Madman has assembled: it contains about as much behind-the-scenes material and interviews as you would want. If you are a horror fan, buy this set immediately, and if you are a fan of Australian cinema, buy this film immediately. It lives up to every bit of its immense reputation.

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