Directed and written by Sean Byrne (The Secret), “The Loved Ones” is an eighty-four minute horror film from Australia, which mixes in doses of dark humor and crime. The movie begins in a tame enough manner with high school senior Brent, in a strong performance by Xavier Samuel, driving a car with his dad as his passenger; he has just received his driver’s license. While driving, the two are engaging in light conversation, but almost immediately things spin out of control when Brent momentarily takes his eyes off the road, because once he looks back up, he sees a half naked and bloodied man walking in the middle of the road. Brent makes an effort to avoid hitting the man with the car which results in a crash.
Flash forwarding six months later, the viewer learns that the accident not only, sadly claimed the life of Brent’s father, but the guilt of the death has put him on a path of destructive behavior; Brent’s coping mechanisms involve self-mutilation and drugs. His mother is an emotional wreck sorting through her own grief, but he does have as a source of salvation – his caring and supportive girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). Brent has agreed to attend their high school prom together, but the only problem is when she arrives to pick him up for the evening, he is nowhere to be found. Where is he? Is he passed out somewhere having overdosed on drugs? Did he finally succumb to his feelings of guilt and end his own existence? Neither is the case.
Earlier in the day, Brent was asked by Lola (Robin McLeavy) to attend the prom with her. He politely turns her down and one would think, especially since he has a girlfriend, that the rejection would be the end of things. Not by a long shot. Unbeknownst to Brent, Lola is not exactly the most stable girl in the world and to make matters worse, she has the sort of father, superbly acted by John Brumpton, who just can’t say no to his baby daughter’s demented requests. He is the epitome of an inappropriate parent. A father, who goes to extreme measures to please Lola, who he refers to as ‘Princess,’ he winds up knocking Brent unconscious with a hard whack to the skull and kidnapping him, so that his daughter will get her prom date.
Upon waking, Brent discovers that he is not only tied to a chair in Lola’s house, but also the unwilling guest at Lola’s own private prom. In fact, he is the king of the prom to Lola’s queen. And the house has been decorated to give the appearance of an actual dance, replete with a mirrored disco ball, glitter, and banners. In addition to Brent, Lola, and daddy, also attending the macabre dance is another guest called Bright Eyes (Anne Scott Pendlebury), an adult woman who is in a catatonic state. Who she is will be revealed to the viewer later on in the film. If Brent knows what’s good for him, especially his physical well being, he will pretend to be into the deranged Lola. Does he do just that as he calculates a plan of escape? I am not going to answer that, but I will say that hammer and nails, a power drill, and a syringe are harmful objects that will come into play throughout the remainder of the movie’s runtime. In addition, if you haven’t seen the film yet, start taking guesses as to who or what lurks in the cellar below the house. Will Brent wind up down there? That’s for you to find out.
A special mention must be pointed out regarding the outstanding performance given by Robin McLeavy. The portrayal she gives of the, at first, shy girl who works up the courage to ask Brent to the prom before brilliantly metamorphosing into the psychotic, pink dress wearing, sadistic minded Lola, could have easily been turned into a one dimensional performance. McLeavy handles the material with the deftness of a veteran actress as she goes about attempting to exact her depraved sense of revenge on the teenage boy who she feels wronged her.
There is also a sub-plot that takes place during the film that at first doesn’t exactly seem worth watching. Brent’s best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) is a dorky teen who manages to land a date to the prom with Mia (Jessica McNamee). She is an attractive, detached teen with a Goth style, who is dealing with her own set of issues. In the end, Byrne ties together all the different characters that, at first don’t seem to fit, other than being filler to take up screen time. In doing so, he lets the viewer know that Lola’s madness has been active for quite some time. In addition, the film features excellent cinematography by Simon Chapman, (Griff the Invisible) and original music from Ollie Olsen, a Norwegian born, popular underground musician based in Melbourne, Australia.
The tense, horrifying, and warped movie, which originally premiered on September 13, 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival, is by no means for everyone, but is a must see for fans of the genre. Xavier Samuel will have you rooting hard for his character of Brent and McLeavy’s Lola is a villain that you will not soon forget.