, , , , ,

Let’s be honest, most Australian films suck. We don’t really have the financing to pull off anything extravagant, so considering the small budget most Australian productions end up with, and the limit on how much of a profit will usually be made, the only films that seem to get the green light most of the time feel more like feature-length tourism ads than actual films. I think that I could count on two hands the number of genuinely great Australian films out there. Two Hands, funnily enough, being one of those I could count on two hands, along with Bad Boy Bubby, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Undead, Babe, Mad Max, Muriel‘s Wedding, Gettin’ Square, and Chopper. Thanfully, there’s a new entry to add to that list: The Loved Ones.

The Loved Ones tells the unfortunate tale of Brent (played by Xavier Samuel) a rural high-schooler, who is fucked-up from a car accident six months prior when Brent collided with a tree, killing his father. He finds comfort in heavy metal, smoking pot, and his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). A big school dance is approaching, and Brent is asked by Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) to go with her, an offer which he refuses. Bad idea, Brent, bad idea. While Brent is alone listening to music, he is attacked from behind and thrown into the back of a car. When he awakes, he’s bound to a chair in front of Lola, her father (John Brumpton), and a woman they call Bright Eyes, who has been lobotomised. The room has been set-up like a dance, complete with party balloons, a disco ball, glitter, music, Lola in a pretty, pink dress, and unfortunately for Brent, syringes, nails, hammers and power drills. Lola has Brent now, like she wanted, and he is in for a night of terrible torture.

The horror genre is something we can do well here in Australia, as a lot of great horror movies can be made on a modest budget. This film is low-fi, to be sure, but first time feature director Sean Byrne (who also wrote the screenplay, and incidentally worked as a co-director on the fucking awful self-help documentary The Secret, the poor bastard) gives the film a great aesthetic, nailing a horror, comedy blend where glam is in, and the red of blood that would normally dominate the colour scheme of such a film is replaced instead with more pink, and more cutesy colours. While there is a comedic element to The Loved Ones, make no mistake, this movie is fucking gruesome, and disturbing. Some of the torture that Brent is put through is absolutely horrible, and despite the low budget, very effective.

There are some great performances here, too. Some of the work falls flat, but thankfully not in the places that count. The work of the three main actors is stellar. Xavier Samuel, who since The Loved Ones landed a major role in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and has more Hollywood productions in the pipeline, shines as Brent, and man, he can fucking scream. He could best a large of number of popular scream queens with his screams of pain and torture. Veteran Australiana actor John Brumpton is also excellent as Daddy. But the real star is Robin McLeavy as Lola Stone. She imbues Lola with a certain sweetness that is important to the character, underneath the evil that she imposes upon Brent, and others. Despite how horrible Lola is, we as the audience can still feel sympathetic towards her, and understand her motives. Lola is a caricature at times, yes, but for the most part is a well-designed, three-dimensional character, a rarity amongst genre villains. With a big upcoming role in Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I hope she starts getting more and more work, because she is a great actress.

The Loved Ones is one of the best Australian films in years, and one of the best horror movies of the last decade, as well. Genre fans should love it, and if Wolf Creek didn’t do enough to tarnish the overseas view of rural Australia and convince people not to visit, this should be enough to make sure our tourism dollars plummet. If you’ve got the stomach for this film, I highly recommend it.

4 out of 5.