People who insist that small towns are better places for raising children than cities always amaze me. The typical arguments are that people are friendlier, there are fewer places for kids to get drugs, wide-open spaces for them to run around in, and that you can always know where your child is. These people need to see The Loved Ones, the fantastic film debut of Australian director Sean Byrne, to know that drugs are just as common in small towns, kids get lost in the wilderness, and that there are really crazy people in the outback.
Brent is having a more difficult time than most teenagers. His father was killed in a car accident while Brent was driving, and his mother will not let him drive or even get in a car — try to survive in a small town without one. He is withdrawn and turns to drugs and taking physical risks in a strange almost-death wish. A girl at school, the seemingly shy Lola, asks him to the prom; but he kindly turns her down, as he is going with his girlfriend Holly. But that might not have been the best response for Lola.
Australian horror films have a knack for going places that their US counterparts would never dare. And they like their murderers crazy without explaining why. You’ll not meet a crazier one than Lola, the hot pink boy-mad teenage murderess of The Loved Ones. You see, it turns out that Lola always gets her man, thanks to Daddy, whom she has wrapped around her finger in one of the greatest pseudo-sexual murderous couples in film. They kidnap young Brent and force him to participate in Lola’s freaky prom at their farm in the outback.
Byrne has an incredible talent for rhythm and pacing. The film begins fairly slowly, as the viewer witnesses Brent disappear into web of darkness whose only way out is his girlfriend. But once the scene opens on Lola’s prom, Byrne cranks the pace and does not let up. He is not afraid to use long takes to build tension, twisting every last minute like a knife twisting through skin. Byrne builds it up and then lets it burst like a gushing wound. Lola seems to have met her match in Brent, who finds a new found desire for life when his is truly threatened. With shades of Carrie and Misery, this film had me cheering.
The young cast is superb, in particular Robin McLeavy as Lola, who will crawl on broken bones before giving up her man. With a fantastic soundtrack, and one of the best long-take endings I’ve seen on film in a while, The Loved Ones is a smart, funny and roller coaster ride entry into the teen horror canon.
The Loved Ones won the TIFF 09 Midnight Madness Audience Choice Award. Well deserved.