Teen depression nightmare

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The Loved Ones (MA). Director: Sean Byrne. Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Jess McNamee. 84 minutes

Robin McLeavy, The Loved OnesGood horror films aren't just about gore. More important are the ways in which the story preys upon the audience's fears, and the filmmaker's skill in creating atmosphere and using other cinematic tools to evoke a rising sense of dread.

Central to this is sympathy for the characters: as with any dramatic narrative, if you don't care for the characters in a horror film, you won't care what happens to them. It's the task of the script and the actors to make sure you do.

The Loved Ones is gory, but it is also an effective and memorable horror film, by all of the above criteria.

It might be a stretch to describe this decidedly twisted film set in country Victoria as a meditation on loss and grief. But these themes do play out throughout the film. They are universal human realities that allow us to sympathise with the central character, Brent (Samuel), during the increasingly horrendous ordeal he is subjected to.

Even before the ordeal begins, Brent is not loving life. His father was recently killed in a car accident; Brent, on his L-plates, was driving at the time. During the months since, Brent has declined into a drugged and depressed daze. He carries a razorblade on a chain around his neck, and the self-inflicted wounds on his forearms both reflect his current emotional torment, and foreshadow the as-yet unknown physical torture that is to come.

The ordeal Brent soon undergoes awakens his survival instinct, which for the borderline suicidal teen translates neatly into a renewed will to live.

It begins innocently enough. Brent turns down an invitation from an infatuated fellow student, Lola (McLeavy), to parter her to an impending high school dance. It's not an unkind refusal; Brent simply already has a date. But, like the villain of high school horror classic Carrie (a major reference point for this film), Lola's socially awkward exterior masks a disturbed interior. She responds with violence.

The snub leads her, like the antihero of another horror classic, Misery (also a major reference point), to kidnap and torture the object of her infatuation, Brent.

Many of the torture scenes, occurring in a rural home decked in gaudy school dance paraphernalia (this is Lola's twisted teen-dream fantasy, after all), are graphic and disturbing, although writer/director Byrne offers the frequent respite of comic relief.

But The Loved Ones contains a poignancy that helps it transcend the deservedly maligned 'torture porn' genre. It is clear that Lola is a product of lifelong abuse from her beloved Daddy (Brumpton), himself quietly deranged. From Frankenstein onwards the most pitiable monsters have been those who are not to blame for their own monstrosity. Lola's gleefully girlish sadism occasionally reveals glimpses of childlike fear, and even desperate love. We fear her, but feel sorry for her, too.

A comedic subplot involving Brent's stoner mate Jamie (Wilson) and his emo dance date (McNamee) is fairly puerile and segues heavy-handedly with the themes of the main storyline. More effective are the earnest fears of Brent's mother and his girlfriend, Holly (Thaine), distraught at Brent's disappearance. Ultimately Brent's best reason to live is that he is loved. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail.

Topic tags: The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne.Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Jess McNamee



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"Brent's best reason to live is that he is loved" - well spotted, Tim! It makes all the difference.
Bob GROVES | 11 November 2010


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