The Loved Ones (2010)
Snakes, spiders, heat stroke, dehydration and now it might be time to add serial killers with idiosyncratic laugher to the list of common dangers known to the Australian Outback. The Loved Ones is a film that explores the latter from the setting of a typical rural town, small, dreary, dry and of course, isolated.
The story begins with several high school leavers on the eve of graduation making final preparations for the prom which will be taking place later that night. One such character is troubled teenager Brent (Xavier Samuels) who, six months on, is still dealing with the death of his father, a process that is made all the more difficult by his own role in the tragedy. In the midst of such distractions Brent doesn’t think twice when he humbly refuses a prom invitation from a quiet and reserved classmate Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) who, as we already suspect, will respond to this rejection by having his feet nailed to the floor of her home in the scenes to come. Issues with his girlfriend, quarrels with mum, and all such problems soon become trivial when a meditating escape into the bush sees Brent suddenly captured and delivered into the embracing arms and restricting ropes of his newly appointed prom date, Lola. Under her father’s reassuring gaze and dressed to kill torture and maim, Lola succeeds in becoming the ruthless queen of her home-made prom. Beneath the glittering lights of a slowly rotating mirror ball, father and daughter bond over food and laughter, flimsy paper crowns and fun found within the contents of a rusty tool box.
Think animalistic cannibalism, raw nudity, incest, snickering outback psychopaths and cars either rattling or roaring against the backdrop of Australia’s recognisable landscape; to say that The Loved Ones simply harbours these features that were once specific to Australian cinema would cheapen the actual achievement of this quality film. The Loved Ones can be seen as part of a new wave of recent Australian horrors (Wolf creek, Dying breed), that do not simply consist of, but pay homage to the elements of Ozploitation films from the 70’s and 80’s. Melbourne based director Sean Byrne is also the writer of The Loved Ones, his first feature film, which chases this heritage of the gruesome, the gory and the all round excessive while at the same time mastering the stylistic skills that lacked in earlier films of this sub-genre. To recognise a few of the films’ more notable features; the perfect synchronization between cinematography and sound creates an atmosphere that is never broken. We also see a variation of editing techniques as the fast pace moments of violence bleed into some more stylised ones where slow motion sequences extend to a purposefully antagonising length. Finally, the quality of the actors is surely one of the films highlights, in particular Robin McLeavy who creates a sinister variation of ‘daddy’s little princess’ that would sooner see me courting Freddy Kruger than this girl clad in pink. John Brumpton plays Daddy as a father who is never quite certain how he feels about the situation that he himself instigated. The number of subtle sideways glances prompts us question whether the dedication to his daughter is out of fatherly impulses, incestuous attraction or fear.
The soundtrack is a mixture of the synthetic styling of composer Ollie Olsen neatly intertwined with contemporary music from such popular Aussie bands as Little Red, British India, Parkway drive and a large amount of credit being owed to Casey Chambers who succeeded in adding to the general creepiness of the film. In fact sound makes such an influence that there are even moments when fear strikes us more by the plucking of a single string rather than the action that is taking place on screen. Although all of these mentioned features already exist within the genre, we must always appreciate a horror that works harder for scares, searching beyond the immediate shock factor.
It is good to see an Australian film that is made primarily for the domestic audience. One way we can identify this fact is by the presence of a natural vigour that remains in the accent of the actors. It often happens that for the purpose of International marketing, accent is subdued, made to appear neutral and ultimately unnatural, resulting in the illusion of bad acting. With such home grown lines as ‘This one’s for the Kingswood’, there is no doubting that the characters truly are at home in rural Australia. If you haven’t been able to tell already, I am all for the supporting the Australian film industry and for this reason alone I would recommend you see The Loved Ones so that more films like this (and wolf creek) will be made. However, having achieved official selection at over twenty international film festivals and winning the People’s Choice Award, Midnight Madness Category at Toronto International Film Festival (2009), there is no doubt that The Loved Ones has more to offer than being just another teenage horror flick.