I don’t find torture porn entertaining to watch. The most that ever seems to come out from watching such films for me is a showcase only of gory violence without any sort of purpose coming forth. These films aren’t especially scary, but when they get around to the violence, the only thing that I can think of is how disgusting these films are. Which is a part of why I find The Loved Ones to be an interesting case scenario. What we see isn’t just a film that makes the torture of its protagonist the sole spectacle, but something far more entertaining. What Sean Byrne had created with The Loved Ones puts torture in the other side in order to form a haunting piece of work, one whose intelligence has made itself even clearer amidst all the relentlessness and the gore.
Brent Mitchell is a high school senior who had been involved within a car accident that resulted in the death of his father. Still blaming himself for the incident, he has turned over to become a drug addict and his only source of happiness has come forth in the form of his girlfriend Holly. At one point he is eventually asked to go to the prom with a girl named Lola, whose offer he rejects. The nightmare has only begun for him when he is eventually kidnapped by Lola, brought to her home where he is now a part of a dance set up by her father. It sounds simple, but the fact that Sean Byrne uses this template to hide the more intriguing details is what draws more interest away from the torture. It becomes a touch more intelligent than the average splatter film, but there’s only so much gore one can take before it feels too much.
While I’m not always on board with The Loved Ones the claustrophobia it captures within the moment is what makes the film’s slow-burning torture sequences feel much more frightening than shallow images of dismembering is what has the viewer in store for a wild ride. But behind all of this torture, a gripping character study almost makes Brent’s development feel like a punishment having been brought onto himself. At the first glance he might be a moody teenager typical of what you would find from the horror genre, but what makes Brent a fascinating case study is the fact that he knows where his happiness has been derived and he sees his kidnapping as a punishment for his own self. As a matter of fact, the frightening aspect of his own torture comes out from the notion you can only imagine he wants it happening to him and as you watch, you are trying to call for help in a way.
Robin McLeavy’s character reminds me of Eihi Shiina’s Asami Yamazaki in Audition. She seems very calm and collected, as many of the most terrifying horror villains show themselves out to be, but the very image that she creates as Lola is where The Loved Ones becomes a wild ride. It’s the perfect punishment of the male gaze in a sense, and watching Sean Byrne allow her twisted nature to go even further in the same way almost feels very morbidly pleasing. She never takes no for an answer, but that’s the least of what makes her character as frightening. We don’t have much background information on her, but that’s the least of what turns out to be necessary within the context in which we have but even a scene where McLeavy is not even doing remotely anything renders itself frightening because of how she plays the role, calm and steady as if she’s building up to the worst.
There’s only so much though, where I can find the torture growing strenuous and rather repetitive. After having established a twisted background for both ends whether it be Brent or Lola, I find that the film seems to tie in far too many subplots one after another. Whether it be one about the prom itself or with Brent’s girlfriend, it’s clear enough that they are trying to bring these in as relaxing points for the film’s more subtle points within the horror genre, but because of the fact that the plot is so recognizably stretched – they only add to the feeling of being such. When they come around, they don’t ever seem to add anything to the actual story that we have, rather they just add to the feeling of disconnect that we have from what are some unbelievably effective torture sequences.
Depending on where your interests within the horror genre lie the degree to which you will enjoy The Loved Ones will be determined from there. I’d only heard so much about the content of the film but not so much about how entertaining I’d have found it to be, even if it does become rather tedious then and there. It plays out like I can only imagine a John Hughes movie would had he been aware of the outright sociopathic nature of some of his main characters to which felt oddly satisfying. But even then, there’s a point to which I found that all of the torture would have become a tad too much for my liking, although I appreciate what Sean Byrne has done here by not having that be the sole spotlight of the work. It keeps everything slight and simple, just as it should be. At least without the unnecessary subplot.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Screen Australia.
Directed by Sean Byrne
Screenplay by Sean Byrne
Produced by Michael Boughen, Mark Lazarus
Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton
Release Year: 2009
Running Time: 84 minutes