Australia, we need to talk. I’m no psychiatrist, but I think it’s time you and I discussed these … movies you’ve been making. Seriously, what is going on in the imagination of my countrymen and women? Why do they find it so easy to come up with such deranged and demented scenarios for horror films? Think about it. We have a fine history of exploitation flicks that rival those of any nation, and although our film industry may not match the output of the Brits and the Yanks, each year we deliver at least one stomach-churner. Our disturbed villains are arguably more terrifying than any American creations. Consider Mick from Wolf Creek, Patrick from Patrick, and even Jigsaw from the Saw saga. Perhaps it’s time to induct another equally nasty piece of work into the hall of fame. Ladies and gentleman, meet The Loved One’s Lola.
Now Lola (Robin McLeavy) is a girl who really needs a psychiatrist, although I fear it might be too late. It’s the night of the prom and she would like nothing more than to be escorted by the hunky, metal-loving Brent (Xavier Samuel). He politely rebuffs her advances, which is fair enough considering he’s already taking his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). But Lola is a girl used to getting what she wants, and her daddy (John Brumpton) is sent to kidnap Brent and bring him back to her place for a private prom of their own. Nothing fancy. They’ll share a drink of milk. Flick through some photo albums. She’ll nail his feet to the floor. Awww. Wait, no, the other one. Ewww.
Writer-director Sean Byrne makes one hell (and I mean hell) of a feature film debut with The Loved Ones. It’s slick, confident and wickedly funny. Lola is straight out of Sam Raimi’s nightmares; a terrifying cross between Carrie and Rachel Berry from Glee. However, there is a serious side to proceedings. Brent is dealing with the recent death of his father (for which he blames himself), and his relationship with Holly is the one shining light in his life. And you feel that, thanks to the genuine performances of Samuel and Thaine. There are stakes in this film, which is more than you can say for most thrillers. We’re not simply watching a maddened killer slaughter personality-free teens. We want Brent to find his way back to Holly. And if Lola should pay a horrible price for the physical and emotional torture she bestows upon him in the process, so be it.
Here’s the rub. Lola and her equally unstable father don’t seem to exist in the same universe as the rest of the characters .The picture dances perilously on the border of earnest horror and self-aware satire, and ultimately feels tonally inconsistent. Ultimately, we’re left with two good (but very different) flicks sandwiched together, and the result is less than the sum of its parts. Still, when you have a central performance as hypnotic and – let’s face it – insane as McLeavy’s, it’s hard to care. She. Is. Terrifying. And weird. Decked out in her nauseating pink dress; sculling glasses of milk; cackling disturbingly; dancing too intimately with her father; staring glassy-eyed into her mirror as Kasey Chambers’ (now, unnerving) Not Pretty Enough plays on her stereo. That being said, she’s still a more appealing date than the Sex and the City ladies.
The Loved Ones arrives in Australian cinemas November 4, 2010.