I remember dreading any form of high school dance; rather it was a homecoming shindig or prom- they all terrified me for different reasons and not just because I can’t dance. I’ve seen teen horror comedy done in a variety of different ways with varying degrees of success; DANCE OF THE DEAD being one recently that comes to mind that I really enjoyed and now THE LOVED ONES has catapulted itself to the front of the genre and also as one of my favorite horror movies of the last few years. I’ve been following and looking forward to seeing this one for a long time and I was worried that it wouldn’t overcome the hype I’d built up for it, but I’m more than happy to say that it easily lived up to my expectations and more.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a nice yet troubled high school kid who has recently lost his father in a car accident when Brent swerved to miss hitting a bloody figure in the road. One day he is approached by a fellow classmate, Lola (Robin Mcleavy), who shyly asks him to the school’s upcoming dance. Politely, Brent declines her invitation, telling her he’s going with his girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine) – reasonable enough right? Not to be slighted in her efforts, Lola enlists her father to kidnap Brent and facilitate her fantasy to have the boy of her choice attend a dance on her terms.
Time and time again I’m disappointed by movies I’ve been dying to see that end up not living up to the expectations. On first viewing my excitement is so high that when it’s over I have that feeling of liking it but as time passes it’s easier to recognize that it wasn’t near what you wanted it to be. I was aware of that while watching THE LOVED ONES and when it was over I didn’t jump to the conclusion that I loved it. Instead I let the events play over multiple times in my head and I began appreciating each moment individually to the point that I was comfortable saying that I absolutely loved the film.
To be honest, the dynamic between Lola and Brent was not exactly what I’d built it up to be when I saw the trailer. I knew what would ultimately go down once Brent was in Lola’s trenches but the extent to which they would communicate was not what I expected. In many ways what actually goes down between the two is much more effective and disturbing than I’d imagined. The film continued to impress and surprise me with the lengths to which they took the sadistic nature of Lola and her father as well as mixing in the comedic nature of Brent’s friend and his date to the dance to break up the tension of the horror Brent is experiencing.
The performances are great; particularly Robin McLeavy and the man that plays her father, John Brumpton. McLeavy takes on the role of an extremely psychotic sociopath with phenomenal skill. She’s also disturbingly fun to watch even as she’s committing some really deplorable acts upon Brent and treating everyone around her terribly- at times embodying pure evil to a tee. The dynamic between the characters is screen grabbing because you feel bad for Brent because of his past and the fact that he was never mean to Lola even when he turned her down to the dance. His commitment to fighting under the extreme conditions added a lot of adrenaline to my viewing of the film as well as tension.
The film is not grotesquely violent; there is plenty of violence and the amount that is present is shocking, but it’s not gratuitous. There’s one act inflicted on Brent very early on that is not bloody, but affects his ability to speak throughout the film that I found particularly effective and the sound of his screams from that point on really disturbed me. The other torture elements are also pretty horrendous but never so graphic that it becomes very hard to bear. It is the sound effects that create the more unnerving aspects of the torture scenes mixed with the gut churning sound of Brent’s screams that I found particularly haunting.
Throughout THE LOVED ONES I was struck with a feeling that I was watching a exemplary effort at recreating elements and tones of previous films in the genre while still turning the events up to 11 and setting a clear imprint all its own. The performances are phenomenal and the villains are terrifying as well as charming which amplified the palpable sense of dread throughout. THE LOVED ONES is a fantastic and memorable horror film with some very effective moments of humor that should not be missed and an experience you won’t soon forget.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)