7 January 2011

Movie Review: The Loved Ones


The Loved Ones
2009, 84mins, 18
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Cast includes: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine
UK Release Date: 4th October 2010 (Direct to DVD)

Exploring the insecurities of teenage lust through acts of violence isn’t a particularly fresh idea, but Sean Byrne’s “The Loved Ones” does it better than any film in recent memory. A cavalcade of disturbing horror, engaging drama and dashes of black humour render the movie an almighty treat, its fate as a genre classic sealed via an astonishingly commanding turn from young actress Robin McLeavy. Of course things get a little overblown toward the end, but that’s all part of charm when it comes to this well paced and genuinely haunting picture.

Still devastated by the death of his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) has turned to drugs and abusive behaviour in order to satisfy his self-loathing. The only bright spark in his life is tolerant girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine), but even she’s finding his newfound tendencies worrying. On the eve of the school dance Brent is approached by reclusive oddball Lola (Robin McLeavy), in the hope that he might escort her for the evening. Brent politely rejects the invite, making plans with Holly instead much to Lola’s chagrin. Deciding to take a walk just before the festivities, Brent is abducted by Lola and her father (John Brumpton), being held captive as the demented duo hold a nightmarish mini prom of their own. Brent is tortured and humiliated as a crazed Lola seeks revenge amongst other things; the sexually confused girl mutilating and psychologically tormenting her beleaguered victim.

Sean Byrne evidences a keen understanding of suspense with “The Loved Ones”, cultivating a selection of characters the audience grows to sympathise with. Xavier Samuel puts in a credible turn as the depressed lead, competently depicting a boy of little hope or happiness. The film channels most of its emotional heat through Samuel, watching as he transforms from a totally lost individual into someone who realises he has numerous reasons to live. This aspect gives “The Loved Ones” an almost survivalist feel, as Brent battles with his predicament and attempts to escape his sick minded hosts. As the villain of the piece McLeavy is a force of nature, dominating every frame of the production she occupies. She’s a cute looking girl (Byrne helpfully sidestepping several ugly duckling clich├ęs here), and brings both sides of her character flawlessly to life. McLeavy has the stature and presence to scare as a blade wielding sociopath, but she also offers a quiet and forlorn loneliness to convey Lola’s uncertainties concerning growing up. From both perspectives it’s a phenomenally astute performance, supported nicely by a creepily submissive John Brumpton. McLeavy and Brumpton make for a threatening onscreen team, Byrne even peppering a few incestuous overtones into the mix for further discomfort.

Dread builds naturally throughout the picture as the protagonist’s situation deteriorates, but it’s all punctuated by a charming subplot concerning Brent’s best friend taking a local Goth chick to the dance. This arc in the film also manages to hit a surprisingly substantive dramatic crescendo, but not before viewers get treated to some solid comic relief and narcotic addled wackiness. This segment of “The Loved Ones” actually compliments the more horrific elements well, as we watch one adolescent boy endure hell, whilst the other enjoys one of the oddest but most gratifying nights of his life. It’s a clever parallel instigated by a talented and intelligent filmmaker.

“The Loved Ones” has no fear of stomach churning viscera, the movie yanking audiences through some intensely stormy and gory sequences. Byrne has no qualms about visualizing numerous sharp objects penetrating human flesh, adding to the sense of bone crunching pain the movie promotes. Some of the shots and camera angles Byrne deploys almost allow the audience to take Brent’s place during the more stressful scenes, a proficient technical touch for creating further intimacy. For a relatively cheap film “The Loved Ones” looks tremendous and has been executed with maximum skill, the cinematography is slick and the sound design atmospheric.

The movie suffers slightly when it focuses on the hunt for Brent (spearheaded by his mother and girlfriend), but the sheer terror permeated by the majority of the picture is adequate compensation. “The Loved Ones” is an absolute delight and from this day onwards genre aficionados should be on the lookout for the name Sean Byrne. His masterful handling of this exuberant little freak show is what elevates it so wonderfully, and makes me hope that his next venture is given a heftier marketing push and grander release platform. On the basis of this he certainly deserves it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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