The Loved Ones Sean Byrne

The Loved Ones Sean Byrne
At long last, demented and poignant Australian teen horror drama The Loved Ones is widely available in North America, and that's a major boon for fans of uniquely unsettling cinema. For his directorial debut, Sean Byrne upends a number of conventions that stifle stories of a similar ilk. It's rare for a film that's ostensibly a variation of the torture-porn formula to be so patient and reliant on character development. Brent (Xavier Samuel) blames himself for the death of his father in a bizarre auto accident in which he was the one behind the wheel. To deal with his emotional agony, Brent embraces physical pain, cutting himself and tempting fate with a little freehand rock climbing, despite having a good friend (Richard Wilson), a loving girlfriend (Victoria Thane) and a loyal dog. This makes him uniquely suitable for the terror that swallows him when social outcast Lola (Rachel McLeavy, Heel on Wheels) responds to his rejection of her as a prom date about as badly as humanly possible. A little too affectionately pet-named "Princess" by her deranged daddy (John Brumpton), the sadistic queen of her own private prom takes her insecurities out in a disturbing ritual that manufactures a false sense of importance out of the demeaning lording of power. It's an interesting reversal of gender roles typical to horror films, one that magnifies both the turbulent emotions of being a teenager seeking acceptance and the psychological damage that can be inflicted by parents who coddle their children. The chain reaction of Lola's vicious selfishness is sagaciously depicted, rendering a subplot involving Brent's buddy Jamie and his prom date, self-destructive goth Mia (Jessica McNamee), more than a contrast between differing forms of despondency, and minor comic relief from the macabre scenes of inventive torture. At 84 minutes, The Loved Ones could have afforded to be just a tad longer, if only to offer a quick explanation for one relatively insignificant, but nagging plot hole, and to give a little more context to Lola's public and private personality split. This exceptional piece of work is light on special features, but interviews with McLeavy (who is absolutely tremendous and terrifying as Lola), Samuel (notable for how strongly he conveys emotion without the aid of his voice) and special FX makeup supervisor Justin Dix are as uncommonly engaging as this film. (Paramount)