Sunday, November 4, 2012

Say Yes to the Pink Dress

Like a batch of movies from young filmmakers I’ve recently watched, Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones is more impressive for the potential it shows than the final product.

But we can still have fun with it.

Quick Plot: Teen dream Brent is driving down the road with his good-natured dad when a bloodied naked man appears on the road. Brent swerves, hits a tree, and an ominous 6 months later title card takes us half a year and one dead parent later to the present.

Now a bit of a self-mutilating stoner, Brent gets through his days with his cute girlfriend and goofy best pal, the latter of whom is excited to take a goth girl out to the big school dance. As the day winds down, a mousy brunette named (the not mousy at all name) Lola Stone timidly asks Brent to be her date for the evening. Although he declines rather gently for a boy of his age, Brent still incurs the wrath of a very effective little outcast.

While climbing a nearby mountain with his trusty dingo, Brent is violently abducted. His loyal dog crawls home bleeding profusely and terrifying Brent’s already crazed mom and worried girlfriend. Meanwhile, Brent awakens in the home of a clearly insane Lola, her enabling father, and mysterious catatonic mother figure (named Bright Eyes) planning Lola’s very personal, very disturbing home prom.

Written and directed by first-timer Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is an energetically fresh little slice of genre fun. Played full-force by Robin McLeavy, Lola is a unique villainess of whom we’ve never really seen before, sort of a Carrie White raised by an eager-to-please redneck with a long viewing history of rewatching The People Under the Stairs. Between her hole-in-the-head mother, potentially incestuous relationship with dad, and collection of tossed aside cannibalistic suitors, Lola is something special.

And yet, it’s all of these fascinating things about her character that ultimately makes Lola as fresh as she is frustrating. We don’t get any real backstory about her family, which would be fine if we weren’t already led to believe she was a longtime school wallflower…which means where did she keep getting her dozen past ‘dates?’ How many young men can disappear from one school district before someone notices? At just 86 minutes long, there was plenty more time to flesh out some of the more nagging questions.

That being said, The Loved Ones is also quite punk rock and perhaps that style in itself justifies the quick running time and unanswered questions. We don’t know why Lola’s father would aide her in these violent schemes, just like we don’t know what his wife did to incur a home lobotomy. Maybe that’s fine: by not filling in some of the blanks, Byrne leaves us wanting to know more about the monsters we barely met. 

Other supporting characters, like Brent’s pal’s dark-natured date, are entertaining on their own before subtle hints reveal their true importance in the overarching narrative. When you combine that kind of approach with, say, Brent’s opening accident (which served the story a bit but more importantly, gave his character a very specific place to start) you start to see how Byrne’s approach to a good ol’ fashioned torture film is actually incredibly new.

I think I’m talking myself into liking The Loved Ones a lot more than I did while watching it. This is not to say it’s not a fun film—from a scratchy catfight to tree climb, The Loved Ones is busting with genuine laughs and scares—but some of its plotting issues did affect my enjoyment during the running time. That being said, I had a good time with the characters (heroes AND villains), felt sad at some deaths, chuckled inappropriately at well-staged black humor, and even enjoyed the deliberate soundtrack choices. It’s a prom date done right.

High Notes
Though I would have preferred a little more delving into the psychosis of Lola, the rest of the teenage characters are surprisingly likable in a funny and three dimensional kind of way that should be far more common to this genre

Low Notes
The more I think about Lola’s character, the more The Loved Ones starts to unravel

Lessons Learned
Razorblade necklaces may seem like an accident waiting to happen, but they can also come in handy when your evening involves abduction

In a pinch, the bodies of a few rotting cannibals will make for a smelly, but suitable ladder

When the principal tells you not to get down and dirty inside a school gymnasium, the parameters generally extend to all of school property

The Loved Ones picked up a strong following from film festival showings a few years back, and though it doesn’t necessarily meet its hype, it’s a good and most importantly, NEW little genre film made by a fresh young presence. Byrne’s script and style are clearly his own, and the mix of horror and comedy is something rarely handled so well in a debut. I don’t know that I’ll revisit this particular film anytime soon, but I’ll certainly be on the watch for whatever he does next.


  1. Nice write up, Emily. This keeps cropping up on my radar, but your review has me really interested in checking it out.

  2. I think you'll dig it James. As I said, I wasn't quite as crazy about it as a lot of other horror fans, but it's definitely worth a viewing, especially since Byrne shows off such a strong voice in his first film.

  3. Nice review - I pretty much agree 100%. This one definitely grew on me as it developed, and Bryne's style is a high point. I agree that the ambiguity tries to conceal some of the more farfetched elements, but I'm okay with it since it avoids resorting to blatant exposition (a peeve near the top of my pet peeve list). Byrne is one to watch though!

  4. One of the best horror films of the year, hands down. For me, the non-exploration of Lola's psyche was OK with me after the actions of her father and that damn creepy dance scene with them. That's all I needed to know.

  5. Eric-I liked how skillful the ambiguity was done in some respects (mostly with the friend character and his prom date) but I just felt like Lola was a tad too much a creation rather than real girl. It was that first scene of hers that left a lot of confusion as far as who she was, but like you said, still fun enough to get by that!

    Cortez: I do agree about Lola's relationship with her dad. Whatever that was was damn eerie...

  6. I'm glad I watched it but I doubt it's something I'll ever watch again. It was good for what it was and I enjoyed its ambivalence. I wasn't as perturbed by the obfuscating as you were.

    I loved Lola's psychosis. I went from having sympathy for her to being shocked by how venomous she could get throughout the entire movie. It was back and forth and I really like how that was set up.

  7. I guess her first scene just really threw me off because I still don't know if that meek demeanor was real. I was less concerned with the idea that so many men could go missing than I was with just not really knowing whether she actually gave them a chance, if that makes sense.

  8. As usual, I'm late to the party. Boo-urns to me!

    I watched this for my October Horror-a-thon and liked it a lot. But it's one of those movies that, the more you think about it, the more problems you come across, and the less you appreciate it. Sometimes, it's just best not to out-think a movie.

    I agree that Lola, and Brent to a degree, don't feel *quite* real. Brent's date, along with his friend and his date, are the real deal.

    Lola's relationship with her daddy? *shivers* That'll keep you up for a night.

    I always find myself re-writing these kinds of movies in my, and it just become frustating. Being pointless goes without saying. But overall, this is a solid-to-good movie, best watched with wine in hand to help you overlook plot holes.

  9. This party runs ALLLLLLLLL night!

    I'm glad you agree that it's a tad flawed in the logic department. I know the horror community seems to be crowning it prom king, and I did LIKE a lot about it. But it DEFINITELY has some issues, though thankfully a few glasses of Malbec can solve most anything!