Directed By: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine
Tag line: "You don't have to die to go to hell"
Trivia: Robin McLeavy prepared for the role of Lola by researching the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer
I usually have a high threshold for violence in movies, but there was a point in 2009’s The Loved Ones where I’d had enough. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a tremendous motion picture; a tense, often unsettling film that had me poised at the edge of my seat. Still, the brutality is so relentless, so extreme, that I often had to look away.
On the last day of school, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) asks classmate Brent (Xavier Samuel) to accompany her to the end-of-year dance. Unfortunately, Brent already has a date: his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). But Lola isn’t about to take “no” for an answer. Knocked unconscious by Lola’s doting father (John Brumpton), Brent is dragged to the Stone homestead, which has been decorated to look like a dance hall. It seems that Lola’s father, who’ll do anything to make his little girl happy, is hosting his own shindig, and Brent is there to serve as Lola’s “date”. Continuously tortured and beaten by his captors, Brent tries his damnedest to escape, but the more he struggles to free himself, the harsher his “punishment” gets.
The violence in The Loved Ones is tough to watch, mostly because it’s inflicted upon someone who hasn’t done anything to deserve it. Not only is Brent an innocent (he wasn’t the least bit nasty or condescending when he told Lola he couldn’t go with her to the dance), but is something of a victim himself (as the film opens, Brent and his dad are out driving. Suddenly, a bloodied young man appears out of nowhere, causing Brent to lose control of the car and crash it into a tree, killing his father instantly). This makes what happens to him all the more tragic, and the torture he’s subjected to is, at times, quite awful (at one point, Brent manages to escape, only to be chased down and captured again. To ensure he stays put, Lola’s father nails Brent’s feet to the floor with a couple of steak knives).
Robin McLeavy turns in a remarkable performance as Lola, a psychotic teen with an adolescent’s mentality who always gets her way. Also strong is John Brumpton as Lola’s dad, an emasculated figure who’s nonetheless capable of doing terrible things. The dynamic between these two characters, complete with an underlying sexual tension, is as fascinating as it is grotesque. Equally as impressive is how writer / director Sean Byrne ties everything together before the movie’s over; a seemingly unrelated side story in which Brent’s pal Jamie (Richard Wilson) , accompanies the distant and strange Mia (Jessica McNamee) to the school dance isn’t as random as it first appears. All of these elements blend wonderfully, making The Loved Ones a movie I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Odds are, I’ll probably watch it again myself.
But not right away.