The Loved Ones (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Brent (Xavier Samuel) lost control of the wheel when a bloodied teen suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. His father on the front seat, the car crashed onto a tree after Brent attempted to avoid hitting the person. Six months later, we learned that Brent’s father passed because of the accident. Still in a state of grief, Brent took solace in dating Holly (Victoria Thaine), a classmate who recently received her driver’s license. It was the night of prom and prior to Brent meeting Holly in the parking lot, he was approached by the innocuous- and plain-looking Lola (Robin McLeavy) and asked him if he wanted to go to the dance with her. Since he already had plans with his girlfriend, he had no choice but to refuse the offer, a decision that could cost him his life. Written and directed by Sean Byrne, for all the horrifying images in “The Loved Ones,” it was thin in suspense and even thinner in horror because every so-called scare appealed to the idea of being hurt by an object wielded by another person, whether it be a nail, a hammer, a knife, a fork, or a power drill. For the majority of its duration, we were forced to watch Brent experience all sorts of physical torture as if the camera had chosen to stay one of those underground rooms in Eli Roth’s “Hostel” but without the cheeky sense of humor and eventual purging of anger and vengeance toward the end that felt sufficient or satisfying. Despite Brent’s chiseled good looks, he was mostly bland. The screenplay’s attempt to communicate Brent’s sadness was at times laughable as he was constantly shown listening to death metal music with his 70s hair placed just so as to remind us that even though he was supposed to be suffering, it was still a beautiful image. That dichotomy did not work for me because this film wasn’t a silly commercial nor was it a complex drama. It would have been simpler and more powerful to show the teenager at his rawest, so angry and so demolished by what had happened to his dad, it seemed that he no longer cared about living. One good scene, however, was when he went outside with his dog, he decided to climb a rock, hang onto it and close his eyes. It made me consider what he was thinking. Perhaps he imagined a parallel life that was better, an alternate reality where his father was still alive and he did not feel so responsible. Or perhaps he just wanted to feel a sense of danger as a reminder that he was still alive, that it was all right to want to move on even if the memory and repercussions of the accident would be lodged in his brain for as long as he lived. It was arguably the best scene in the film because drama and horror, not the torture kind, worked together and it asked us to consider what could be happening in our protagonist’s head. Regrettably, the film had to deliver the blood and the screaming which eventually made me apathetic because of its redundancy. The torment in the chair coupled with Jamie (Richard Wilson), Brent’s sex- and pot-obsessed friend, going to the prom with Mia (Jessica McNamee) was a toxic combination. Every time the camera switched to Jamie and Mia, the built-up tension was sucked out of the screen. While there was one piece that connected Mia and Jamie’s night out to what was happening to Brent, it was only one and, if anything, it only felt like a footnote. “The Loved Ones” made me question its purpose. A lot of horror films are made to entertain–with a few exceptions like Srdjan Spasojevic’s “Srpski film” that is simply an affront not only to our senses but also to the art of making movies. Although horror pictures may involve physical pain, they can be enjoyed for reasons such as characters who are smart and plucky that we want to see survive or even characters that are so stupid, we want them to experience a gruesome death so they would stop being so annoying. They can even be enjoyed for technical details like interesting camerawork or great use of lighting to amplify a certain mood. I wasn’t entertained by this because the torture was coupled with humiliation. I felt sad and sorry for Brent. I didn’t feel like the writer-director loved his main character enough, just another young body to be mutilated.