REVIEW: ‘The Loved Ones’ (2009)

Brent (Xavier Samuel) has the Worst. Prom Date. Ever. in "The Loved Ones".
Brent (Xavier Samuel) has the Worst. Prom Date. Ever. in "The Loved Ones".

Directed/written by: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine
Running time: 84 minutes
Rated: R

If you’ve been following along from home for a while, you know I’ve been saying there’s something wrong with the horror genre. To recap things quickly, I’ve said that a great many of the horror films that are put out today are formulaic, and quite frankly, not scary. At its base, the modern horror movie is rarely horrific: gory and gruesome, perhaps, but not scary. They all seem to take place in an alternate horror film reality too far removed from our own. However, sometimes we get lucky and someone brings the experience back home to us like as is the case with “The Loved Ones”.

We pick up the story with Brent (Xavier Samuel) on a leisurely drive with his Dad. Out of nowhere, a bloody, haunted figure appears in the road. Brent swerves to avoid him and crashes into a tree. His father dies in the crash. Years later, he’s still living with the guilt form the accident as well as his mother’s own particular issues. Obviously, he’s not in a good happy, place. He does, however, have a good girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine). They plan on going to prom together, but the mousy Lola (Robin McLeavy) has other plans for Brent that night.

I’m not sure if I can come up with enough superlatives for this movie, written and directed by Sean Byrne (who most recently directed the shorts, “Advantage” and “The Secret”). It’s a smartly written slice of insanity woven into a fairly mundane setting of kids trying to cope with their lives and, in Brent’s case, coping with an even that is pretty horrific on its own: the loss of his father. I don’t’ want to go too much into the actually story because, as with all good pieces of story telling, the best part is letting it unfold before you. Sure, there are some plot points you can see coming a block away, but Byrne has done a good job of keeping away from the clichés and guiding his story into familiar, yet unexpected places. Visually, he gives us an off-putting palate of sick-greens, deep venous reds and hot pinks, like something straight out of Barbie’s Dream Abattoir. The gore is relatively subdued; mostly shown after the fact but still effective and sometimes breathtaking.

But it would all be theatrical karaoke if the actors couldn’t pull it off. Fortunately, they did. Samuel does the job brilliantly, conveying a world of pain in his eyes, even moreso after he’s deprived of his voice. Not surprisingly, we’ll be seeing more of him in the future as he’s been tapped for a role in the next “Twilight” movie. At least he’s got a real horror movie under his belt first. Thaine also brings in a full-bodied performance (excuse the pun) as distraught girlfriend. Roles like that can easily be throw away roles, but it’s nice that one, it’s not written likes the typical girlfriend role – in fact, you could almost call her role heroic – and two, she’s got the chops to make it believable. But I saved the best for last and that would be Robin McLeavy. Wow, does she ever bring the pain as prom date from Hell, Lola. She swings the emotional pendulum from sweet little girl to I’m-going-to-bite-your-dick- off virago, each played with hints of selfish madness and cruelty that is captivating.

“The Loved Ones” is the kind of horror movie that others should aspire to be: well written with characters we actually care about placed into situations that defy reason and humanity. It is the bad touch of a stranger that finds something soft in us and squeezes. Though this will probably not take mainstream audiences by storm, if there were any justice in the world, it would.

Joe Lopez
Dubbed, "TerrorScribe" by a former editor, Joe made the conversion to horror sometime in the mid-2000s. Little did he know he'd favored the genre all of his life. When not struggling with short stories, he provided genre film reviews for local entertainment sites and later genre sites who could suffer his cynical views.

It was that same cynicism - and some might say hubris - that lead him to have a brief flirtation with filmmaking. His first two efforts, "Annotated" and "Antes Que Seja Tarde (Before It's Too Late)" both premiered at a local H.P. Lovecraft film festival. A third short, "Survivor Girl" proved to be his undoing though plans are in the works to revived the cursed project.

Born and raised in Dallas, TX., Joe now resides in a small Texas town. Statistics say more dead bodies turn up in small towns that big cities... though he claims to have NOTHING to do with that.
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