Directed by Sean Byrne. Starring Xavier Samuel ("Brent"), Robin McLeavy ("Princess"), John Brumpton ("Daddy"), and Richard Wilson ("Jamie"). Rated R. Body Count: 8
Source: Region 1 DVD (Paramount)
Running time: 01:23:53
THE LOVED ONES, as far as I know, made its debut about three years ago on the festival circuit. And, like most promising horror movies that debut in such a manner, it was shelved for far too long as far as a North American release, prompting curious fans to either seek out import copies or just download torrents, or whatever the kids do to get movies these days.
Me? I just waited.
I can't say that I was highly anticipating this movie even with all of the hype and good word-of-mouth surrounding it, but it was still on my radar for sure.
Directed by Tasmanian filmmaker Sean Byrne - and his first feature-length film no less - THE LOVED ONES revolves around a high school prom and more or less tells the story of a troubled teenage boy (he's a cutter and his father was killed in a car accident months earlier), Brent, who's abducted and tortured by an undesirable, deranged female schoolmate and her pampering father. Basically, "Princess", as she's referred to by her equally-psychotic father, has this idea of creating her own twisted prom in the privacy of her own home since she apparently can't get a date, and judging by her scrapbooks that seem to be a collection of photos of the other boys she's captured and apparently had her way with, she's had quite a few of them.
It would be easy to assume that THE LOVED ONES is your standard torture porn movie, but there are a few elements that prevent it from being simply that. The emphasis on the abduction/torture aspect if taken away at just the right moments to focus on Brent's concerned mom and girlfriend who attempt to make sense of his sudden disappearance, and there's also a plot thread involving Brent's best friend who lucks out and scores a date to the prom with a sexy Goth chick. The inclusion of the minor characters does wonders for the pacing and they also add a very human element to the film that contrasts the gruesome violence taking place in Princess's decrepit-but-well-decorated lair. While the prom sub-plot is ultimately kind of pointless in terms of the overall narrative, it adds some light humor to the film and it's fun to see how it all unfolds.
Aside from how well-made the film is (which I'll talk about shortly), one of the positives of the film is actress Robin McLeavy as Princess. She has a great presence and really seems to have immersed herself in the character she played, although, despite her being portrayed as a social outcast, she's a tad too pretty to be completely believable as someone who has to resort to kidnapping and violence to be with a boy she desires. Another thing about her character that left me wanting more is that she's only shown briefly outside of her natural habitat (her home). Princess seems to be very comfortable in her home, but apparently she's a mess in the outside world. There's also not a lot of explanation in regards to her motives, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; one thing the movie does well is give you enough information about certain things for you to follow along without spelling everything out for you like most modern American horror movies do. At the end of the day, I guess it all comes down to Princess being a symbol rather than a character whose psychology we need to understand on a deep level.
As I said earlier, THE LOVED ONES is more than just the average torture porn movie that it could have easily been, and a lot of things play a part in this. The storytelling is great, but it's the film's style that really stands out. It's shot fairly well in the sense that there aren't any crazy De Palma-esque camera shots, but in the sense that it's very polished and nice to look at despite the film's violent nature. The pink dress that Princess wears, for example, is an interesting contrast to the muted browns and lackluster lighting of her decayed house, and there's a scene late in the film where she's walking through a field and the color of her dress REALLY pops, almost as if she's a neon-colored apparition floating gracefully amongst the living.
Even more so than the visuals, the auditory aspect of the film is amazing. The score is so fucking solid. Norwegian musician and composer Ollie Olsen and his team of musicians (including a female vocalist credited as Pookie-Spooky) really know how to use music and sound to build tension and evoke moods. Overall, the score, at times, is like a combination of John Carpenter (in particular his HALLOWEEN score), Goblin, and Ennio Morricone's score for BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (along with a few other notable composers who I'm failing to mention, I'm sure) but with an electronic/ambient twist.
There's so much more to talk about with THE LOVED ONES and I'm probably already getting a little carried away, so I'll just wrap it up with a few last words. When it's all said and done, THE LOVED ONES isn't special. It's a movie we've all seen before but with tons of style and a few moments of greatness here and there. But, just because it's not the most original horror movie out there and it doesn't break any new ground doesn't mean it can't be worthwhile and enjoyable, and in some respects it's also an accomplishment. THE LOVED ONES is a movie that will appeal to most horror fans without pandering to them, which goes a long way with me and I'm sure most people reading this. In other words, it's not obnoxiously self-referential and it's not dumbed-down like a lot of American horror movies are. It's also very violent at times, but the goal doesn't seem to be to gross out the audience or bask in the gruesomeness. Overall, a solid horror movie from a director who hopefully does more work in the genre. Again, not mind-blowing in any way, but well-made, enjoyable, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.