Sean Byrne’s Ozploitation film The Loved Ones is, on its surface, yet another entry in the already exhaustive kidnap-and-torture genre, and offers the same kind of visceral seat-squirming and nominal violent revenge catharsis that such films typically provide. And while it does fetishistically linger over the violent torture a bit too much (someone gets their feet nailed to the floor with steak knives), it at least, to its credit, bothers to steer away from the pointlessly stylized grimy grit that usually marks torture porn, opting for a much more palatable suburban Aussie milieu. Okay, the film does have a pit full of lobotomized cannibals, but that adds to the fun. The Loved Ones, indeed, goes to some lovingly Fangoria-ready camp/trash places that less ambitious films wouldn’t touch. It proves to be a sweet little chiller.
The school stud Brent (Xavier Samuel) is not getting over the death of his father very well. He cuts himself, and has retreated into a place of brooding that only teenagers can know. His pretty girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) alleviates some of his tension, though, and they have a healthy sexual relationship. They both look forward to prom. Also looking forward to prom is a marginalized girl named Lola (the excellent Robin McLeavy), who dreams of dating Brent herself.
Luckily for her, she has a system in place to get dates. She and her doting father (John Brumpton) regularly kidnap teenage studs, inject them with a chemical that destroys their vocal chords, and force them to enact Lola’s prom fantasy in their living room. Lola and pops have a whole scrapbook of boys they’ve kidnapped. When the boys inevitably don’t live up to Lola’s standards, dad trepans them and lobotomizes them. Whee! Brent is going to the prom whether he wants to or not.
This is a slightly interesting spin on the usual teen dynamic we see in movies. Usually the underdog gal will eventually charm – or at the very least gain the attention of – the school stud just in time for an important dance/birthday party/defloration. In this one, the nerdy girl is the villain, and the stud is the victim. There’s also a lot of thematic (albeit murky) exploration of the idea of the prom, and the role it plays in the sexual lives of teenagers. This is seen mostly in a completely unrelated subplot involving Brent’s nerdy friend (Richard Wilson) having a bizarre date to the prom with the school’s super-hot Goth chick (Jessica McNamee). The Goth is silent, clearly doesn’t want to be there, and yet goes to the prom with this semi-awkward guy anyway, and even offers him some sexual experiences for his trouble. The subplot feels a bit like padding, but it’s included, perhaps, to offer a dark (light) mirror of the main story.
I kinda dug the flick. I liked its pretty pink aesthetic, and, in Lola, provides us with a fun villain. She’s often a cackling, energetic monster, ready to wield a drill, and clearly a full-blown psychopath, but there’s an odd sweetness to her that I think we can all relate to. We may be rooting for the stud-muffin guy, but I think our hearts are with the killer.
Plus there’s a cannibal pit in a suburban home. Good times.