The Loved Ones is Australian Sean Byrne’s first full length feature. It is a teen horror / comedy and follows the genre rules faithfully. The MIFF audience I watched with were 1) family & friends of the post production crew (who were sponsoring the screening) and 2) the right age. The end result was many loud and enthusiastic laughs which meant it was exactly the right environment to watch it in.
It opens with Brent (Xavier Samuel) driving and his dad in the passenger seat on a country road. He swerves to avoid a figure standing in the middle of the road and ends up crashing into a tree and killing his father. This theme of ‘loss’ lays the emotional foundation for the film as Brent’s future survival becomes more important to us because of it.
His love interest, Holly (Victoria Thaine) does not have a lot to do but bestows the early teen love scene (check) and, along with Brent’s widowed mother, provides the pull for Brent’s return.
When asked to go the school dance by Lola (Robin McLeavy), Brent turns her down as he is already going with Holly.
Lola looks to be the school loner and odd-ball, not quite fitting in. She keeps a scrap book of her school crushes, dresses in garish pink and listens to Taylor Swift : evidence in the film of her slow emotional maturity (my 10 year old daughter loves Taylor Swift which I think is the point – Lola is 17).
Playing in a similar space to last year’s Aussie teen horror Acolytes, Brent is kidnapped and taken to a remote farm house and tied to a chair. There he meets Lola and her father Eric (John Brumpton) who have arranged their own school dance with Brent the special guest. There are plenty of “squirm” moments when the audience can hardly look at the screen and some first rate shock moments. There is also one of the best pantomime “look out behind you” moments I have seen for a while.
While none of the actual horror is witnessed on screen, Byrne soaks up as much tension as he can in anticipation and with the sound effects amped up, every hit, thump and drill bit allows the audience to feel the experience.
The tension of the farm house is off-set at intervals by the first date between Sac (Richard Wilson) and Mia (Jessica McNamee) at the school dance. Byrne delivers plenty of laughs in between however from both settings. While there is a risk is that the comedy will undermine the horror, for the most part Byrne gets it right and viewed in the right frame of mind, there is plenty of fun to be had.