What better way to kick off the best month of the year than with a little blood-spattered love story?
Made in Australia in 2009 but just finding a release in the States now, The Loved Ones, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sean Byrne, centers around Lola (Robin McLeavy), a shy young lady who asks cute but damaged Brent (Xavier Samuel from my new favorite shark movie, SHARK IN A GROCERY STORE!) to the prom. Brent must say no – he’s in a relationship with a nice girl who’s helping him heal after a tragedy. Lola, however, is not a lady who takes no for an answer. So logically, the best way to deal with this rejection is to kidnap Brent, tie him up, dress him up in a tux, and subject him to various tortures? It’s just like a normal prom, right? It’s like Pretty in Pink by way of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (complete with a clever homage to the dinner/hammer scene).
This movie has a reputation for being gory, and that’s not a lie. Brent suffers some serious brutality in the name of love and prom. But the real star here isn’t the red stuff. It’s the characters, especially Lola and her rather questionable relationship with her “Daddy.” McLeavy as Lola is just terrific – completely unpredictable, petulant and demanding like a teenager, sexual like a grown woman, and totally, gleefully insane. This girl knows she’s nuts, and is perfectly okay with it. You know she’s going to hurt someone (the poster can tell you that), but you can never quite guess which direction of crazy Lola’s going next – and how extreme that mood swing will be. But it’s all in the name of love, right? She’s just looking for love! And she has her family around to help her fulfill all her prom dreams. Especially her Daddy.
Daddy, played with few words but incredible facial nuance by John Brumpton, brings the creepy so strong that even though Lola’s the one with the knife, it’s Daddy who you keep watching out of the corner of your eye. And the two of them together give you a relationship that is absolutely unsettling (their cheerful yells of “We can’t hear you!” over Brent’s tortured screams is especially effective), but also strangely similar to a touching portrait of father and daughter. You know, if father and daughter were both psychotic torture/murderers. For them, this is like a game mixed with a sort-of romance that’s about as screwed up as it gets. Again, Brumpton conveys so much of this wordlessly, and McLeavy excellently plays the knife edge (sometimes literally) of young-girl ignorance and womanly awareness. And while it’s pretty damn obvious that Lola and Daddy’s feelings might be more than familial, with one possible exception, it’s not overplayed.
As a director, Byrne makes some smart choices. He creates likable characters – when Brent turns Lola down, it’s not because she’s a loser, it’s because he already has a girlfriend. He doesn’t mock or torment her. It’s a perfectly normal reason to say no to someone, and it makes his capture later that much more upsetting, because there’s no “jerk guy comeuppance” to enjoy. This is an honestly nice guy with some shitty life experiences even before Lola; a tragedy from his past that not only helps him endure the impending tortures, but even gives him reason to suspect he deserves them. It’s not “he’s a MAN, so he’s so tough and can handle all this torture stuff!” These are sympathetic and realistic character traits absent in most films in the genre.
There’s a lot more to this movie, such as a subplot with a couple actually attending the prom, but I don’t want to give too much away and spoil all the fun. Personally, after the credits rolled, I kept remembering the scenes with Brumpton and McLeavy (and Samuel, but his character was a little out of it at the time). These two give special meaning to the word dysfunctional, and you’ll enjoy watching them play it out. As for Byrne, he can count me as someone who’ll be looking forward to what he does next.
Given how much derivative crap is out there, this wild, brutal and just plain crazy original is well worth your time.