In order to avoid a ghostly figure in the road, high school senior Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel) wraps his car around a tree, killing his father. Constantly confronted by his mother's emotional collapse after the accident, Brent escapes into a marijuana fueled world of loud metal music to block the pain and guilt. Dejected and out of sorts, he has a shot at happiness with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine), a grounded, caring girl with drop dead good looks, a dream date for the high school prom. But his plans are thwarted by a disturbing series of events that take place under a mirrored disco ball, involving pink satin, glitter, syringes, nails, power drills and a secret admirer. Brent has become the prom king at a macabre, sadistic event where he is the entertainment.

Terror with a twist.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL : The Loved Ones knows what it wants to be from the very first frame, and accomplishes it by offering a smart spin on complex themes like jealousy, familial bonds, grief, teen angst and forgiveness (just for starters). In an era cursed by focus groups and safe bets, producers Mark Lazarus and Michael Boughen have stuck to their guns (and hammers and knives and kettles) and delivered a visceral and fiercely original blast of great film terror.

Debutant writer/director Sean Byrne’s grotesque and savage horror film has already played to glowing notices and audience favour at global festivals, and The Loved Ones deserves its international standing. In exploring teen alienation issues and serial killer film lore, Byrne melds the essence of John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986) and fearlessness of Greg MacLean’s Wolf Creek (2005) into a frightening yet resonant exercise in genre dramatics.

The evil protagonist at the black heart of The Loved Ones is Lola, aka Princess (Robin McLeavy), a meek nobody who glides through the halls of her high school unnoticed. Brent (Xavier Samuels) is a shell of the happy boy he once was, having survived a car crash that killed his father six months prior (he swerved to miss a bloody, shirtless teen whose relevance becomes integral to the plot). Committed to romancing the pretty Holly (Victoria Thaine), Brent politely declines Lola’s invitation to the school dance but the rejection triggers Lola’s alter-ego. Brent is abducted, bound and at the mercy of Lola and her sociopathic father, Eric (John Brumpton).

Almost the entire second act of The Loved Ones takes place in the kitchen of Lola and Eric’s homestead, where Brent endures hideous rituals of torture, debasement and abuse. A recurring, muted theme of incestuous longing and some pitch-black humour provide a modicum of palatability, but nevertheless, moments involving a power drill, kitchen fork, razor blade, household bleach and boiling water will rattle all but the most desensitized filmgoer. A trapdoor unleashes the full force of Lola and Eric’s house-of-horror, and their surreal universe takes on a nightmarish sense of the macabre. Byrne handles this stunning reveal with self-assuredness that belies his lack of feature film experience; he is a major talent whose developing maturity will be followed with interest.

Although all contributions are first-rate, special mention should be made of Simon Chapman’s cinematography, which captures with glorious richness the dark corners and garish colours of production designer Robert Webb’s central kitchen set.

Of course, regardless of how good Byrne and his crew were behind the camera, the film was always going to sink or swim on the believability and ferocity of the actress charged with bringing Lola to hideous life. Robin McLeavy, with only one prior feature (Daniel Lapaine’s little-seen 48 Shades, 2006) and a bit-part on All Saints to her credit, gives an all-or-nothing performance, creating a villain every bit as ruthless and horrifying as John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek. McLeavy toys with audience empathy early in the script, and proves a dab hand at sly, character-driven comedy too. She deftly handles the pure sociopathic evil that lurks within Daddy’s little green-eyed monster, all the while taking her vile actions to the most extreme lengths. It’s terrific movie acting, in sync with the warped vision of her director. The trust between the two shows.

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1 hour 24 min
In Cinemas 04 November 2010,
Wed, 03/16/2011 - 11