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The Loved Ones (2009)
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton
Rated: R for Strong Bloody Violence and Torture, Sexuality, Some Language, Teen Drug and Alcohol Use.
Running Time: 1 h 24 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Writing, Directing, Acting By Leads, Continually Ups Stakes
WEAKNESSES: Some Acting By Secondary Characters
After Brent turns down Lola’s invitation to prom, she and her father kidnap Brent and force him to come to dinner.
I’d heard about this film right when it came out, and I’d always intended to see it, but for some reason or other it always fell by the wayside. I’d heard it was a pitch black comedy with some unique twists and uncomfortably awkward scenarios, so that sounded like something right up my alley. Later, I learned that Sean Byrne, the director of The Devil’s Candy, directed this movie as well. The Devil’s Candy was a fantastic small budget horror/thriller from 2015, and that little tidbit of information was enough to reignite my interest in this film. Sitting down and finally watching this movie, nigh ten years after it’s original release, I was surprised at how different it was than I’d expected.
Worst Prom Night Ever
To call this film a horror comedy is a stretch. There are certainly funny moments in this film, but the uncomfortable nature of many of those scenes make it less funny and more disturbing in a slightly off-color sort of way. People with a dark sense of humor (like myself) will find some things to laugh at, but to go so far as to compare this movie to other horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, or even Evil Dead II would be misleading. This is pretty much a straight up horror film. The things we’re shown are meant to make you feel uncomfortable and gross you out, and the funny stuff just gives the viewer a strange feeling in their stomachs. If you’ve got a twisted or dark sense of humor, you’ll probably find a few laughs in here; I did. But for the most part, this movie aims to make you wriggle in your seat and it does it well.
The plot itself is rather simple and straightforward, and it’s been done a thousand times before (in fact, in film school, I directed a short film about a woman kidnapping a man and forcing him to go on a date with her). The basic plot is something that, though overused, can still provide some surprises. Even though the overall premise and general direction of where this movie is going is slightly predictable, the movie has plenty of surprised up its sleeve, and plenty of moments that will hold your attention and keep you engaged. The primary reason for this film working so well is because of the writing and pacing of the script. The movie doesn’t take long to from regular prom night to full-fledged bonkers, and then when it ramps up to eleven, it really doesn’t calm back down again. Every time when you think you’re going to get a break, Byrne shoves you back down and says, “Oh, you’re not done yet; look at this.”
A lot of credit must go to the actors too. Xavier Samuel (Love and Friendship) is good as Brent, the kidnapee. A lot of his time is spent fixed to a chair, but the way he transforms from a rather preppy stoner to an almost animalistic protagonist is shocking to watch. The real talents are Robin McLeavy (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and John Brumpton (Romper Stomper). Lola and Daddy have a really messed up relationship (obviously; he kidnaps a kid for her), a textbook definition of an Electra complex. The relationship is wrought with extreeeeemely uncomfortable sexual tension; Daddy watches Lola change, he constantly makes eyes at her, and he does anything for his little princess. Lola, in turn, takes full advantage of the obsequious, servile nature of her father, teasing him along the way. The relationship, while incredibly messed up, gives the film another layer of grossness, but it also makes the characters more interesting in a revolting sort of way.
Of course the main plot of this film revolves around the eventual torture of Brent. I’m not a huge torture movie fan… When the Saw movies had their heyday in the 2000s, I must admit I saw a few of them, and the first two or three were actually okay. But by the fourth Saw film I had grown weary of seeing stupid, unlikable people be hacked, strangled, ripped, and taken apart in various methods. In my opinion, ‘torture porn’ films, as they’re often called, don’t really have anything to say. They’re movies for people who are thrilled by seeing other people in pain. This movie certainly takes elements of a torture porn film, but it elevates it by not really showing the gritty details in extraordinarily graphic ways. Yes; there is a decent amount of blood; yes, there are some very painful moments to watch; but, it does show a surprising amount of restraint for what the subject matter is about (there aren’t any scenes where dead pigs are dropped into grinders, and the protagonist is being drown in its guts), and that certainly plays to its strengths.
If there were anything laugh out loud funny in this film, it would be the constant contrasting of Brent’s prom night and his best friend’s night. His friend asks out a girl who is too good looking for him, but is also a little bit of a rebel. As his friend tries to go through what is essentially a typical prom experience, Brent gets tortured.
I feel like with most of the horror films I’m reviewing for our 31 Days of Thrills series I’ll be saying the same thing: THIS FILM IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY. Horror films certainly are not everybody’s cup of tea. There’s a reason you’ll see my name at the bottom of most of the reviews in this series, and that’s because I generally enjoy horror films, and Michael does not. That’s okay. There are plenty of movies out there for everybody to enjoy. This movie is rough, but not as rough as it could be. There are plenty of moments that will thrill and chill you, and the direction and acting are both pretty stellar throughout. Both of Sean Byrne’s features have been worth seeing (I enjoyed Devil’s Candy more than this), and if he continues in the same vein, Byrne might be a horror director to keep an eye on.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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