“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King :::::::::::
MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
"Prom Night can be torture." Great tagline. I love it. "You don’t have to die to go to hell." Another great tagline. An unashamedly over-the-top, black-as-smeared-mascara horror as perverse and demented as it is original, yet strangely familiar. He takes the teen romance a la prom night/birthday party and gives it the proverbial king hit with a wildly gruesome portrait of adolescent angst, self-pity, revenge and retribution. The Loved Ones (2009) is as bittersweetly ironic as its title might suggest … being a horror movie.
Xavier Samuel as Brent
It’s been delayed, but finally its here, the debut feature from Melbournian Sean Byrne who made the excellent short Advantage (2007), which screened at the MIFF last year, and screens this year at the SFF, with a nationwide theatrical release to follow in August. The Loved Ones stars Xavier Samuel as Brent, a grieving, handsome but shabby teenager, feeling dreadfully guilty of the accidental death of his father, his mother now a semi-catatonic wreck. He escapes into a haze of marijuana and grunge, and climbs his favourite rock to find temporary bliss. But not before turning down pretty-plain wallflower Lola (Robin McLeavy)’s invitation to the senior prom to go instead with Holly (Victoria Thaine). The seed of doom has been planted. Listening to loud music on his iPod means Brent is unawares …
Robin McLeavy as Lola
After the depressing home front set-up and the high school fallout the movie swerves into thriller territory, and then plunges headlong into twisted horror abandon, but with its tongue squirming violently in its cheek. Writer/director Byrne balances the precarious tightrope of heinous torture crimes infused with dark comedy. Lola is no doubt the product of bad parenting and a broken home. Well, not entirely broken, mother is still present, albeit a little worse for wear. It’s Lola’s father Eric (John Brumpton) that’s the concern. Lola’s the (rotten) apple of his eye, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make his little princess happy … especially on her birthday!
John Brumpton as daddy
A red-herring sub-plot has Brent’s buddy Sac (Richard Wilson) pluck up the courage to ask the school’s resident foxy Goth, Mia (Jessica McNamee) to be his prom night date. Seems she’s got nothing better to do, and besides she’s bored. Sac’s got booze and a decent muscle car, so she can drown her sorrows. Sac’s pretty sure he’ll get lucky. Mia’s dad’s the local cop, so he insists she be home none too late. But it’s Brent who isn’t home when Holly turns up looking all pretty for the prom …
Jessica McNamee as Mia and Richard Wilson as Sac
Most of The Loved Ones takes place in the small home of princess Lola and her folks, in fact much of the movie appears in real time (the whole movie takes place over the course of a day and night and early the following morning), which heightens the tension and creates a palpable sense of urgency. But most curious is the tilt of focus from Brent, the tortured protagonist, to Lola, the desperately lonely antagonist. As wicked and deranged as she is, her nightmare fantasy becomes the movie’s compelling centerpiece and her celebration an extended set-piece. So much so that the sub-plot of Sac and Mia becomes superfluous to the point of an irritating "Huh?"
Victoria Thaine as Holly
What makes The Loved Ones so remarkable is not just the gleefully vindictive, macabre, take-no-prisoners attitude, but – and hats off to the director and casting agent – Robin McLeavy’s performance as Lola. McLeavy’s extensive theatrical experience brings a world of nuance and subtlety to the role of daddy’s little girl all fucked up. She utterly commands the screen and steals the glittering, blood-splattered limelight from Xavier Samuel, who is pinned to the floor with a power-drill hole oozing cranial fluid. Yes, one needs to suspend a modicum of disbelief with some of The Loved Ones horror shenanigans, but I was okay with it, in that Evil Dead kind of way.
Lola and Eric share a loving daddy-daughter moment
Also of note was another of John Brumpton’s creepy turns (he stood out in Storm Warning, 2007), the special effects make-up from Vaso Babic, and the effective use of source music (some homegrown classics put to good use) and the score. Sean Byrne has delivered an instant cult classic, flawed, yes, but there’s enough bloody good stuff (including references to other cult horrors) in there that elevates it to that rarefied status. This is one birthday party that’s a definite crowd-pleaser for horrorphiles.