SXSW 2010: THE LOVED ONES Review
[With Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones screening at SXSW we now re-post our review from the film's world premiere in Toronto.]
Though a touch prone to melodrama and inclined to overindulge its teen-angst metaphor, Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is, nonetheless, one of the more striking examples of raw talent to emerge on the horror scene in a good long while. Byrne is a master of manipulating tension, a director with a very keen eye and a gift for pushing art direction right to the edge of Lynchian madness while still keeping things rooted in the real, recognizable world. And he has also given birth to one of the most potent serial killer duos to grace the screen ever.
Xavier Samuel - soon to be setting teen girl hearts throbbing the world over thanks to his role in the third Twilight film - is Brent, a high school teen given over to depression and fits of self-mutilation after being behind the wheel for a car accident that killed his own father. That the accident was not at all Brent's fault - he swerved to avoid a bloodied and beaten man who stumbled into the path of his car - does not seem to matter. His home, now reduced to just Brent and his mother, is a dry and muted place filled with nothing but guilt and quiet despair. The only bright point of Brent's life at all is Holly, his beautiful and vibrant girlfriend - the only soul with any chance at pulling Brent out of his self imposed exile and, of course, his date for the year-end dance.
And there's the problem. You see, Brent has also caught the eye of Lola - the awkward school loner. And while Lola may fade in to the background at school, well ... let's just say Lola is used to getting what she wants and more than willing to employ any means necessary to get it. And if Brent won't come willingly, well, there are other ways. There always have been ...
A virtual treatise on teen obsession, Byrne fuses elements of the high school drama with extreme horror and twists them all into an entirely new configuration. Brent, honestly, is a bit of a non-factor - a fairly stock character that we've seen many time before, but Lola ... Lola is something else entirely, the fevered creation of someone who was clearly terrified of his sister's Barbie dolls as a child. She's all glitter and pink satin and (presumably) veterinary drugs and knives and punishment, all of it carried out with the help of her seriously off balanced father, with whom she shares a disturbingly pseudo-sexual relationship. Brent? You've seen Brent. But Lola? She is absolutely magnetic, sure to become a horror icon for the ages.
Though there are inconsistencies it just can't seem to quite get over - a few plot holes, some logic problems, a moment or two of clumsy execution - The Loved Ones ups the ante considerably for what was already a hard-surging Australian genre-film wave and marks Byrne as a definite director to watch. This one's the real deal.