When I started preparing for my Octoblur watchlist last year, one of the movies that seemed to be on all of "The Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen" lists that I came across was Sean Byrne's 2009 The Loved Ones. It never worked its way into last year's schedule — the poster art stoked my concern that it might be a prolonged exercise in extreme camp — but after even more recommendations leading up to this month, I finally just put it on and braced myself. While it does, briefly, get a little carried away with "noisy crazy," it earns it, and is overall a terrific, gory thriller that turns on a dime from perversely fun to horrifying with considerable skill.
A sort of "teen rom com-meets-Texas Chainsaw Massacre," The Loved Ones is, reductively, about two teen boys and their dates for an end-of-year school dance in a small Australian community that seems to be a magnet for tragedy. That's a purposefully mealy-mouthed plot description, but one of the great pleasures of The Loved Ones is how deceptively non-formulaic it seems; there's a real, organic "what would happen next" feel to the way things unfold from one gruesome revelation to the next. While The Loved Ones veers close to "torture porn" at a few points, it retains both an appealing comic sensibility and never loses sight of the humanity of its characters, which is an important balance.
The Loved Ones also hints at something deeper — there's an undercurrent of genuine sadness similar to that in The Descent — but Byrne keeps it suppressed underneath a broad and colorful surface. There are a few other things in The Loved Ones that are better off not thought about too deeply after it's over, because it's a great success in its immediate style and execution without as firm a grasp on the comprehensive picture. Byrne, who elicits fine performances from a cast that is previously unknown to me, is definitely a filmmaker to keep on the radar, and finally has a follow-up feature being released this fall.
The Loved Ones Stills Gallery
There may be spoilers in these stills. Don't look if you don't want spoilers.