I’m not sure what loved one means in Australia, but I am suspect!
Written By: Sean Byrne
Directed By: Sean Byrne
I avoided most of the hype for The Loved Ones, and I have to say I’m happy that I did as such. Standing away from the hype surrounding the film it is easy to see the many flaws that the film contains. It’s also easier to see the raw grit that makes the film such a compelling watch. All the same I couldn’t help feel that the raw grit, the impressive gore, and the surprisingly adept cast were never able to overcome how conventional and incomplete much of the film truly is. The horror buff in me would love to be able to say that he was bowled over by The Loved Ones. But, I learned many moons ago to dampen my horror enthusiasm and focus on the film as a whole, and that means The Loved Ones is a film that leaves the viewer wanting.
A few of the larger issues with The Loved Ones are in how it handles its very conventional tropes. On the one hand the writing of Sean Byrne is quite smart in the way it melds the classic high school angst story with slasher horror sensibilities. On the other hand the horror set up, and one subplot of the high school angst, is handled so clumsily that I did find myself groaning on a few occasions. The film would have worked much better for me if it did not stumble so mightily in attempting to set up its horror landscape and in playing out its non-horror elements as the film progressed.
Notable is the death, or at the very least maiming, of a dog. I know I sound like a broken record, but I really wish that those in the horror business would move past the tired cliche of harming an animal to signify evil. It’s gotten to the point where anytime an animal, specifically a dog or cat, is on screen in a horror movie there’s no doubt over what will happen to the innocent animal at the hands of the evil villain/s. Also notable is the back and forth between the characters of Jamie and Mia. He’s a bumbling idiot who is a good guy at heart, and she is a damaged child acting out with the only weapon she has, her body. Their dynamic could have been interesting if it weren’t written to be so conventional and so lacking of any energy of oomph beyond its formulaic trappings.
I will praise The Loved Ones for how it handles its horror elements as the run time of the film increases. In that aspect Mr. Byrne showed some skill behind the camera. He adroitly utilized gore and cringe worthy moments of violence to up the tempo of the film and make the plight of the films paper thin characters something to care about. The gore was particularly well done, both in visual style and in implementation. There were a few scenes later in the movie where I was drawn into the action on screen simply because of how great the gore looked and how Mr. Byrne was choosing to film said gore. This tied into the ratcheting up of the suspense levels, so that by the end of the film it didn’t matter that I knew what was about to happen, the suspense was still present and powerful.
The acting was another saving grace of The Loved Ones. The three main players of Robin McLeavy, Xavier Samuel, and John Brumpton carry most of the weight, but they carry said weight finely. The more time the camera spends on the three of them the better the film plays. The straight forward nature of their performances is what helped to finally sell the film to me. There was a chance for The Loved Ones to turn into an out of control torture fest with nary a drop of intrigue. But Miss McLeavy and Misters Samuel and Brumpton did not let that happen as they engaged me with their mannered and energetic portrayals of the films leads.
The Loved Ones could have been a better film, but it’s still a pretty decent entry in the modern horror ranks. It’s not the great new horror film that so many people have made it out to be, but I do see potential in Sean Byrne as a director. I’m not so sure about Mr. Byrne as a writer, because it is in the script where the film is its most conventional and falters more often than not. Still, solid direction, well done gore, and some really interesting performances make The Loved Ones a worthy horror film for horror buffs to seek out and watch.