The Loved Ones has been marketed as Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek, and this is surprisingly accurate, as the film combines 80s chic with torture porn.
Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel) is one glum chap. It’s only been six months since the death of his father, and he’s clearly taken responsibility for the loss. He does have an adoring girlfriend in Holly (Victoria Thaine) however, but it’s love of a different kind that will ensure that his school formal is a night to remember. You see, Lola (Robin McLeavy) also loves Brent, and will do anything to ensure that her special night is just perfect. Even if it involves power tools.
It’s perhaps unfortunate that I have recently seen 5150 Elm’s Way (5150, Rue des Ormes), Mum & Dad, and, to a lesser extent, P2, because the fad for expanding upon the dinner table scene from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre seems to be well and truly upon us. If this hadn’t become so popular, then maybe I would have received the setup of the horror portion of the film more positively. As it stands, I’m finding this sub-genre a little tiresome.
That being said, there’s a lot that The Loved Ones does perfectly. First and foremost, this is a horror film that actually spends time with the characters and lets us get to know them. After decades of horror films, you’d think most filmmakers would get this, but countless throwaway horrors can attest to this not being the case. Writer/director Sean Byrne makes sure we feel Brent’s guilt and Holly’s love for him before any nasty happens. We also get to know Brent’s friend and high school drug dealer, Sac (Richard Wilson) and the object of his affection, depressed goth Mia (Jessica McNamee). The coming of age portion of the film is so perfect that the encroachment of the central horror plot is actually a bit disappointing. Alas, this well-written and performed drama doesn’t mix at all with the horror. In fact, it almost feels like two separate films at times.
The horrific setup itself is handled pretty well. Unfortunately, Byrne made the mistake of having Brent mute from the very beginning of his captivity. One of the most important features of a great horror film is a well-written central character/victim, and whilst Brent’s introductory scenes are brilliant (and the high point of the film) it’s disappointing that there is no room left for him to develop after the first 25 minutes.
With regards to the actual torture, The Loved Ones certainly boasts a wonderfully macabre list of horrid acts. One might have thought that body horror was a dying breed, what with the Saw franchise supposedly coming to a close, but this film has no intention of letting the trend fade. If you want to see some excruciatingly horrifying moments on the big screen, The Loved Ones certainly stands as the best of those films willing to go all the way.