The Loved Ones
The Loved Ones is a beautifully crafted and well paced story that perfectly juxtaposes a coming-of-age story with the nightmare world of two deranged sadists – a father and his daughter. It is an Australian film, and whilst there aren’t that many antipodean horror films that spring immediately to mind, the ones that do (such as Wolf Creek) have all been very good. The Loved Ones can be added to this stable.
The film centres on Brent, a young man who is likable yet slightly dysfunctional due to the loss of his father in a car crash where Brent was the driver. His strained relationship with his now understandably protective mother comes to a head when he intends to defy her desire to keep him out of a car driven by his girlfriend to the school dance. Brent releases his inner demons in a cocktail of rock climbing and marijuana (yes, really!) and from here his world gets surreal and nasty.
It might be because stereotypes are different in Australia, but it was very impressive to watch a film with characters such as a troubled teen, an overbearing mother, a local policeman and a level-headed girlfriend without feeling like the same old caricatures were being forced upon the viewer. Often character development is achieved at the expense of excitement, but there is an excellent pace to The Loved Ones, and this is achieved using interesting back story and a well timed plot progression. There really are no massive suspensions of disbelief asked of the audience and the plot and subplots are woven together in a wonderfully natural way. One minute you are enjoying a view into someone’s life in a small Australian community, the next we are privy to a scenario that is unsettling, bizarre and deeply unpleasant.
Brent politely refuses an invitation to the school dance from a class-mate Lola (or “Princess” as her father refers to her in the film) as he is going with his girlfriend. This leads to him being drugged and abducted by the girl’s father. Brent awakens to find himself bound to a chair in the demented setting of a mock-up prom in the home of Princess and her Daddy, complete with mirror ball and party accessories! It soon becomes clear that this is not the first time the pair has done this, and the mother of the family is brought to the table, dazed and docile bearing the scar on her forehead of a past trepanning.
In lesser hands the film would then descend into relatively meaningless torture sequences, but this is not the case here, and whilst it does have many skilfully crafted scenes of horror and tension it is interspersed with cut scenes elsewhere that are genuinely very funny and would be high points of a comedy film. These are brief though and serve as contrast when the story returns to Brent and his plight, in no way lessening the films impact as a pure horror film.
The mood is darkened by some deeply unpleasant undertones. Princess and Daddy are clearly either psychotic and sadistic and are therefore capable of anything; she expects to get what she wants on what she perceives to be her “special night” and he wants to be the doting father who makes it perfect for her by any means possible. As the precocious mood of Princess swings in an ever-more vicious manner towards Brent there is a feeling of unpredictability which creates a powerful tension. There is a feeling that almost anything could happen, coupled with not knowing what it could be, making Brent’s plight a strong vicarious experience.
Gore fans will not be disappointed, but those who aren’t should not be put off – this is no schlock film. A lot of what makes the film’s more intense scenes uncomfortable is a psychological assault combined with a visual one. For example, there is a head drilling scene which is almost unbearable, but I don’t believe the drill bit is shown entering the skull once, the sound and the implied image are excruciating though! The real horror lies in the acceptance by the perpetrators in what they are doing as normality, or at the very least wholly justified. In a moment reminiscent of the Grandfather in Texas Chainsaw Massacre who is too weak to bludgeon the captive girl, Princess is unable to complete a section of a torturous procedure designed to sedate Brent, and botches and delays it forcing Daddy to take over – the stoppage and anticipation is agonising.
The interaction between Princess and Daddy is what really shines in this film. So often there is a killer, monster or other antagonist to be overcome in horror cinema – but in The Loved Ones it is the destructive relationship between this father and daughter that is to be feared. There are no scenes of incest between the two but it is subtly hinted at in a manner that makes it more repulsive than if it were shown. Princess knowingly undresses and changes into her prom dress in front of Daddy – who stands and watches her, transfixed. Their whole existence is unpleasant and disturbing, it is clear that anything which intrudes upon their fantasy world will be dealt with – and for someone to be at their mercy is a horror to observe.
The narrative of The Loved Ones is beautifully tied up, all the threads and character arcs come together in very satisfying manner. Nothing is surplus to the story, yet there are many layers that enrich it. This standard of film-making is fast becoming a hallmark of Australian horror, it combines high production values with craftsman-like storytelling and characters which have a depth that generates vital empathy – it’s not afraid of brutal horror either, and I for one hope that this standard continues.