“You’ve got 10 seconds to go or Daddy’s gonna nail it to the chair”
Making less than $35,000 worldwide, most of which was in it’s native Australia, it’s not particularly surprising that most haven’t heard of this film which most of the western world would describe as splatter films or torture porn.
To give you some idea of what is meant by those terms, I’ll highlight some of the better known films from that genre, “Hostel”, “A Serbian Film” and arguably most famously, the Saw franchise. So, I hear you ask, what makes this film different from the aforementioned collection of very poorly received films?
For a start, unlike the majority of others in the genre, there is actually a very good story behind the torture and subplots including what happened to the main antagonist’s former boyfriends, the relationship between the main protagonist and his mother, as well as the very heavily hinted pedophile nature of the father figure towards the antagonist.
With a virtually unknown cast at the time of release, “The Loved Ones” gives you a great chance to view the acting skills of some very youthful actors, as well as early glimpses into one or two that have since gone on to star in Hollywood, such as Xavier Samuel, who played Riley in the Twilight franchise and a role in the upcoming Brad Pitt film, “Fury”.
Lola (Robin McLeavy) appears on the outside to just be your typical teenage girl. She enjoys being feminine and appears to be a very friendly girl, that is until she she asks Brent (Xavier Samuel) to go to the prom with her and gets rejected. Whilst Brent gets on with the rest of his day, Lola suddenly starts revealing her true nature and it isn’t long before Brent finds himself being kidnapped.
Waking up in a strange house that has been decorated to resemble a prom night, Lola reveals that she doesn’t take rejection well and will make Brent realise that they are meant to be together, along with the help of her father (John Brumpton), who is simply referred to as “Daddy” throughout the film. Almost more torturing for Brent is that sat next to him is a vision of what lay in store as there is mute woman with a huge and charred hole in the middle of her forehead.
Whilst Brent’s friends and family are searching for him, he is being subjected to being tortured by Lola and Daddy, including, amongst other things, nailing his feet to the floor so that he can’t escape and filling his voice box with bleach so that he can’t scream for help. As the film plays on Brent continues to get tortured and the twisted nature of the relationship between Lola and Daddy becomes more disturbing as the film progresses.
In many respects the film isn’t as fucked up, but there there are quite a lot of scenes where you feel that you can’t watch anymore but feel that you have to just to see what is going to happen next, especially when you realise that Daddy performed a home-made lobotomy on Lola’s mother via drilling a hole in her head and pouring boiling water into the hole.
This is different to other torture porn films though as most of those are filled with characters torturing others for the pure sake of it, but in The Loved Ones you get the feeling that Lola and Daddy are genuinely mentally disturbed. They aren’t pissed at the world or want to teach people a lesson for some morality lesson, such as the Jigsaw character in the aforementioned “Saw” franchise, Lola and Daddy are pissed at Brent as Daddy’s pedophilia towards his daughter has included convincing her that she is perfect and boys that reject her advances need to be taught to appreciate her, and the fact that they do that by injecting bleach into someone’s vocal cords shows how mentally disturbed they are.
The relationship between Lola and Daddy makes this film though, whilst disturbing in it’s nature, it’s probably the strongest father/daughter relationship that I have seen in film for a long day. I must admit that having spent this review thinking of why I think this film is very different to others in the genre, I would say that this is the reason, and when you find out what happened to all of Lola’s previous love interests (revealed towards the end of the film), you realise that Lola and Daddy’s relationship has been that strong for a long time.
“The Loved Ones” isn’t your normal torture porn/splatter film simply because the characters are developed properly. The “Saw” franchise didn’t do that, one of the reasons that the series, despite lasting seven films, was received horrendously by critics and fans alike from film three onwards. “Hostel” certainly didn’t do character development, nor did “A Serbian Film”, this is the first film I have seen where a character gets tortured for a major portion of the film and get the torture isn’t the main attraction of the film.
There are a few negatives though. There is a completely unnecessary sub-plot in the film where Brent’s friend gets a date and the film flips to that date throughout, constantly interrupting the flow of the rest of the film to the point where it’s like a car that is going 100mph and then stops for a red light, and it takes a long time to get back to up 100mph before it has to stop again suddenly.
When the film comes close to it’s conclusion, you find out how the date is relevant to the torturing, but it’s is the most tedious link I have seen in the film and was neither previously hinted at, or even really has an impact on the outcome of the film. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to see an underdog get a date and do well on it, but given that it had precisely no meaningful impact on the film, the film could have done so much better without it.
“The Loved Ones” is one of those films that you either love or hate. It is unapologetically violent and it doesn’t hold back on showing you what is happening. There is nothing left to the imagination, but for me the most enjoyable part of the film is that the excellent acting from the young cast, especially McLeavy, is compelling. You genuinely believe that she could happily torture you whilst maintaining a generally pleasant attitude, and that is a testament to her acting quality. There are far too many young actresses these days who play roles in horror films that play it so incredibly poorly that you never genuinely believe that they are in danger or in Lola’s case, causing the danger.
In my opinion some of the best and most original horror films are those that have no influence from America, such as the Spanish film “REC” (which I would love to write a review for on this site but it is too well known) and a whole plethora of English horror films, and if this is the standard for future films from Australia then their future is bright.