Lots of Love for The Loved Ones
After months of unrequited audience demand for The Loved Ones to be shown in theaters in most U.S. cities, it was quietly released on video last Tuesday. In fact, I would not have even known it was available if not for the genius email marketing campaigns of Redbox. After immediately renting and watching it, I recall the hype surrounding it earlier this year. And I am happy to contribute to said hype; I absolutely loved this movie!
The Loved Ones has a little something for nearly every horror subgenre fan: action, mystery, psychological horror, splatter, suspense, thriller and, just perhaps, a tiny hint of zombie horror. While some movies may claim the same, most do not also have the additional characteristics that belong to good movies of any genre; namely, interesting characters and character development, a smart, no-nonsense script and authentic, emotional revelations.
Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones does a remarkable job of efficiently introducing its main character, Brent (Xavier Samuel), a high school survivor of tragedy who is grappling with guilt, almost to the point of defeat. Watch closely for the visual details that paint a rich picture of where Brent’s life is headed. In very little time, we know everything we need to know to be fully invested in his survival as he experiences unimaginable horrors.
Supporting characters also demonstrate unusual depth through judicious use of screen time. There’s no wordy exposition, simply actions and reactions that, while perhaps leaving some details to the imagination, nevertheless convey a clear idea of their circumstances. Brent’s mother (Suzi Dougherty) and girlfriend (Victoria Thaine) are particularly strong with relatively less involvement at the forefront of the story.
But why does the action switch between brutal scenes of Brent being held hostage by schoolmate Lola (Robin McLeavy) and seemingly non-related, almost comedic scenes of best friend, Jamie (Richard Wilson) going to prom with goth girl Mia (Jessica McNamee)? Yes, it provides a little relief from the tension. And it provides a contrasting viewpoint between the real prom and the impromptu psychotic prom set up in Lola’s dining room. But it also comes together in a clever confluence of plot points that is both unexpected and rewarding.
The Loved Ones reminds me of Halloween (1978) in the way it creates realistic characters and relationships. Contributing to that familiarity is the fact that Mia’s father (sorry; actor unknown) is the sheriff, just like in Halloween, Annie’s father is the sheriff. And with the shocks and suspense, I’d also say it’s on par with Halloween. It’s a less primal kind of terror and not quite as persistent, but it nevertheless had me quivering on the edge of my seat, shouting at the screen.
In reviews where I heap praise on a movie, I normally provide a “but”. You know, “I really liked it, but…” I can’t think of a single “but” in The Loved Ones. It is thoroughly engrossing and entertaining, perhaps the best horror movie I’ve seen in many years. However, I am not going to tell you go rush out and rent it. Instead, I’m going to tell you to rush out and buy it. If you’re even a little bit like me, you’ll be thinking about it the next day and will want to watch it again and again.