It has already been a bumper year for Australian film, with the likes of Animal Kingdom and The Waiting City getting rave reviews across the board. Yet let’s not forget the backbone of Australia’s film history: the exploitation genre. As Not Quite Hollywood informed us a few years ago, while Picnic at Hanging Rock was making nice on the international scene, the likes of Patrick and The Man from Hong Kong were quietly putting bums on seats in drive-ins across the country. In that proud tradition, we may now add The Loved Ones.
In rural Victoria, Brent (Xavier Samuel, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) is slowly getting over the death of his father, killed while Brent was driving. Asked to the school dance by the ‘quiet one’ in the school, Lola (Rebecca McLeavy), he turns her down as he already has a loving girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). However, Lola has other plans for the dance. She has been preparing for this for quite some time, and the little matter of Brent’s lack of enthusiasm isn’t going to dampen hers.
Bloody and sticky, what is most surprising about The Loved Ones is just how funny it also is. Billed as ‘Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek‘, but there should also be a nod to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films in there. A scene in which Brent, Lola, her dad and ‘Bright Eyes’ sit around the dinner table has the grotesque humour of Tobe’s Hooper’s second entry in that series, or more recently the films of Rob Zombie. Maybe ‘Prom Night meets Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ doesn’t quite fit on the poster as well, but nor would that description adequately capture the quirkiness of what may be an instant cult classic.
The Loved Ones is Australian horror at its most fun, filled with the kind of over the top splatter that horror fans will flock to. Sean Byrne (who’s previous screen credits frighteningly include the self-help video The Secret) injects his debut theatrical feature with a cast of colourful characters. The real find here is McLeavy (48 Shades), who is perfectly cast as the unhinged Lola, with a daddy wrapped around her pink varnished little finger. Imagine if Napoleon Dynamite‘s Deb had snapped and gone off the deep end. While the story believability levels may stray at times, and the gore levels certainly won’t be to all tastes, it stays on just the right side of the torture porn genre with a few genuine twists to boot. You’ll never guess what is in the basement.
Following in the tradition of the Sperig Brothers’ Undead (who also brought us Daybreakers this year), The Loved Ones is the kind of genre piece that we should be seeing more often on local screens. Australians, rise up and demand buckets of blood and power drills on more marquees! You may never listen to Kasey Chambers in the same way again!
Overall rating: ★★★½
The Loved Ones is out in Australia on 30 September 2010 from Madman Entertainment.