“The Loved Ones”
Horror is a tough genre to work within. It’s hard just to make a good horror movie, and it seems like it’s even harder to get the good ones released. With the exceptions of “The Woman in Black” (which I thought was decent, not great) and “The Cabin in the Woods” (fantastic) this year, we have seen the releases of such lackluster efforts as “Chernobyl Diaries,” “The Devil Inside” and “The Silent House.” As those lesser ones were being put into theaters, I kept hearing word that “The Loved Ones,” which had been getting great reviews, wasn’t getting a theatrical showing. Now that I’ve had the chance to catch the movie on DVD, it’s even more maddening that such an effective thriller was dumped while studios thought something like the awful, generic “The Apparition” was worthy of a thousand theater screens.
The main story is rather simple. Prom is very near, and students are getting excited for the event. Lola asks Brent, our protagonist, to the prom, but he is already going with his girlfriend Holly. Lola doesn’t take too kindly to this, and she and her father kidnap Brent so they can have a prom of their own at her house. Beyond that, there are more character developments that come into play later on, so it’s best just to go in knowing only the basic premise. There’s no final twist or game-changing revelations, but there is more going on under-the-surface that enriches the plot.
What sets “The Loved Ones” apart from the usual horror crop is its relative avoidance of the clichés of the genre. Apart from a dumb decision or two on the part of the main character, the film doesn’t rely on unlikable stereotypes, predictable beats, or overplayed jump scares to carry itself along. The best of the genre doesn’t merely show horrific acts or calculate it’s suspenseful moments; it gets under your skin, finding the sweet spots that unnerve rather than disgust. Brent, acted by Xavier Samuel, earns a lot of sympathy from the audience early on, meaning that the ordeals he goes through later are even more effective and hard to watch.
This isn’t to say that “The Loved Ones” is light on the red stuff. There are certainly choice moments that are pretty gross, but director Sean Byrne doesn’t dwell on them longer than they need to be. While looking at the trailer gives the suggestion of a “Saw”-like series of tortures (which isn’t entirely untrue,) Byrne understands that the scariest parts are the ones we don’t see. Unlike other horror directors that try this but often feel like they’re holding back, Byrne knows precisely what to obscure and when to cut away at the right times.
In addition to that, there are some creepy elements to the life of Lola (played by Robin McLeavy, who is frighteningly effective at switching between sweet and menacing) that are insinuated to the audience. John Brumpton’s weird performance as her father suggests there’s something “more” between them just from the subtle facial expressions he shows, as well as there being a bizarre character named Bright Eyes, who may or may not be Lola’s mom (the movie only hints at who she is, rather than plainly stating.)
I don’t typically review video releases, although “The Loved Ones” is too good to ignore in light of the fact that it was denied a theatrical release and wasn’t paid the attention it so rightly deserves. While “Cabin in the Woods” was a creative and totally unique shot-in-the-arm to the horror genre, it was more of a “fun” type of horror movie. “The Loved Ones” is the flip side of that, satisfying audiences who crave for “pure” frights and scares rather than meta-jokes and gimmicks.