The Loved Ones (2009)
With the incredible advances in technology, it is now feasible for a substantial number of film buffs can accumulate exceptionally large libraries of the favorite movies and television shows. Not only has the advent of the DVD and Blu-ray discs made it possible to store hundreds of movies in an average bookcase but recent advance has removed the need for physcial storage altogether. With home streaming services like the DNLA and online services including Vudu and Amazon Prime is now possible to have hundreds of movies available push of a button with the content stored on the Internet not taking up space in your home. Over the years I have managed to augment my physical collection is a significant number of movies directly streamed from the Internet. Every so often, when things are slow, I like to scroll through that collection and revisit a few gems. The latest film to come to my attention in this fashion is an Australian all film, ‘The Loved Ones’, originally released in 2009. As a person who’s made a living statistical analysis most of my professional career of a happy consider this movie as an outlier, a data point that does not fit in to the established parameters. In this instance that statement refers to the fact that this movie was constructed using many of the plot devices that have come to dislike actively. There are elements of this film that for such categories as torture porn, depending upon the minus infliction of pain. Usually the second half of that description includes the phrase, ‘in lieu of any semblance of a plot’. This is where the differences begin to become evident. This movie contains a very robust and well-crafted plot, a narrative that is carefully unfolded before the audience using the exceptionally graphic depiction of violence in relation to punctuate aspects of the story and crucial basics of character development. The main underlying theme is a very familiar one, a teenage girl so that a socially important event continues to seek retribution on innocent surrogates for the one who betrayed her.
The filmmaker, Tasmanian native Sean Byrne, is making his feature-length debut as both director and writer with this opus. It demonstrates something that I have found regarding filmmakers who initially established themselves but short films. They have a greater proclivity for possessing a sense of cinematic efficiency. The relatively brief four-minute running time Mr. Byrne gets directly down to establishing the fundamental essentials of the story. In one scene he introduces the main male protagonists as well as setting the stage for the horror that is yet to come. I school student Brent (Xavier Samuel) is driving with his father down a stretch of road cutting through a rather isolated area, expected since the setting of the story is Australia. The enviable ride together is disrupted when the young man suddenly appears in front of the car. He is completely around his surroundings obviously in shock as substantiated by the blood dripping from someone carving things into his chest. He swerved to miss him and hit a tree. Skipping ahead six months, Brett is looking forward to going to a school dance is about to ask his girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine). A short while before he received an invitation to the prom by aniother stdent, considered one of the odd students in the school, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy). Incorporating a plot device mandatory for high school all films written Brent and Holly hurried off to her car and proceeded to have sex. If you step back a moment from the important salacious moment you’ll be able to discern that this is essential for character development. It shows that Brent is not merely dismissive by rejecting Lola’s request; he was in a serious relationship with a lover girl. It also introduces a crucial plot point, that Lola is a serious crush on Brent. The efficiency and the storytelling so expertly incorporated into the film that you may require repeated viewings and some consideration to be able to identify these aspects of craftsmanship. Another point revealed in this scene is that the reason why Holly is driving as a result of Brent’s recent accident that resulted in the death of his father while he was driving. Shortly afterwards we learn that Brent has been self-medicating with marijuana and has begun the practice of self-mutilation to deal with his emotional pain and guilt. At one point Brent contemplates suicide but at the last instant decides against it.
As he sat listening to music someone sticks up for him and not some unconscious. Brent awakens tied to a chair in front of the table. The audience realizes that he has been kidnapped and brought to Lola’s home. Also at the table is Lola’s father (John Brumpton), a middle-aged woman referred to like Bright Eyes (Anne Scott-Pendlebury). The circular scar in the middle of her forehead made it clear that the woman a crude but successful lobotomy was performed. The nickname is a reference to the Charlton Heston character in the original ‘The Planet of the Apes.' The logical assumption is that Bright Eyes is Lola’s mother. Lola’s father has decorated the home in the fashion of a high school dance. To prevent distracting screens from the ongoing guest, Daddy did a syringe with household bleach and injected directly into Brent’s larynx. Lola makes a disparaging remark regarding Holly; Brent lashes out kicking her under the table, using the distraction to escape. Brent’s freedom is short-lived, however, Lola and her father in pursuit he tries to hide by climbing a tree. The demented father daughter team horse rocks at him until he is knocked unconscious falling from the limb. A scene that initially appears to be quite simple upon slightly deeper consideration is an insightful lampooning of a whole lot contrivance that typically makes no sense whatsoever. Whenever the killers after a person they always run upstairs, never even considering any attempt to get out of the house up to including crashing through a window. Climbing a tree is taking this futility to an extreme for comic effect. Then a method for extracting him from his dubious place of safety would be obvious to a child in the second grade, throw rocks at him.
Brent was brought back to his seat at the kitchen table. Daddy decides to resort to an action that will preclude any repeat escape attempts, Brent’s feet to the floor. Not untying him in the first place whatever avoided this entire debacle but in another clever jab at the logical inconsistencies almost always found in horror movies. Lola decides to cozy up to Brent and shows him a scrapbook that she keeps. Much to Brent’s horror it consists of Polaroid photos of the previous ‘Prom Dates.' Brent recognizes one of the victims as the young man he almost ran over to ask months ago, Timmy Valentine (Stephen Walden). Timmy was the brother of the school’s Goth girl, Mia (Jessica McNamee). Employing another example of stylistic efficiency Mia happens to be the girl that Brent’s best friend, Jamie (Richard Wilson). Initially that they were just supposed to be for appearance's sake but after the quantity of recreational cannabis the improbable couple begins to heat up. For stories that are built around themes that include such psychologically and emotionally tends subject matter as torture and psychotic behavior, the need for a secondary, ‘B’ storyline, offering the audience a respite from the visceral assault graphic violence. A date between a stoner guy and he Goth girl provide the ideal amount of humor to provide the necessary break while maintaining the pervasive dark mood of the movie.
The scope of Lola psychotic fantasy is widened, and she explains the Brent that she is looking for her Prince and hopes that he’s not just another frog. To express her feelings towards Brent she picks up a fork crudely draws a heart containing the letters ‘L’ and ‘S.' Bringing an adage to reality, Lola rubs a liberal amount of salt into the wound. Just when the audience, and of course Brent, think that the situation could worsen, Daddy and Princess Brings the hapless young man into a deeper circle of hell. Moving the furniture aside, Daddy moves a road to the side and opens up a trap door that leads to a basement. It contains Brent’s predecessors in Lola’s search for the ideal prom date. Lola proceeded to Brent’s head using an electric drill creating a wound similar to that on the four had a Bright Eyes. Lola’s intent is to pour hot water into the hole effectively lobotomized and Brent but much to her consternation she determines the hole is too small. During this procedure, Lola notices a razor blade pendant hanging around Brent’s neck. This was first revealed during his encounter in the car Holly, the item he uses for self-mutilation. Brent manages to slash at Daddy with the blade resulting in an outcome Ocean to get free. He manages to push the man into the pit where it is evident that the former victims elected to starve to death, many still sufficiently alive to pull Daddy into the darkness. The young men deemed by Lola to be ‘frog,' unceremoniously dumped in the basement to starve to death in the dark. This procedure has been going on for quite some time as demonstrated by the human bones littering the floor. Some may have been the result of the composition are a more likely explanation is solving rejects resorted to cannibalism in a desperate attention to prolong their agonizing existence.
Separating this movie from the myriad of the typical slasher/abduction flick is how brilliantly Mr. Byrne was able to so closely emulate everything that is wrong with the movies through the use of explicitly planned and meticulously executed, no pun intended, use of these tropes and archetypes. Dedicated fans of the genre maybe convinced that they are watching just another of these hurriedly prepared flicks. His lack of deeper insight is mostly a result of their proclivity for casual viewing often under the influence of some perception altering substance. If you approach this film as an objective critic or a discerning cinephile will be able to ascertain the immense amount of meticulous care that went into every aspect of the film’s production. The example cited above only the most superficial examples of this exquisitely fashioned film. To achieve this heighten level of satire requires a thorough understanding of all the nuances of the genre. The filmmaker was able to deconstruct this overly utilized genre, reassembling it as a movie that mocks the actual movies while possessing a cinematic excellence that far exceeds anything that genre has ever produced. It is a rare thing indeed to witness such a beautifully made satire.