Best known for the gruesome true crime it inspired, “The Loves Ones” has a nasty rep, but this twisted black comedy deserves a second look.
The Loved Ones (2009) is the directorial debut of Australian Horror director Sean Byrne. It stars Xavier Samuel as troubled teen Misfit Brent, a high school student learning to cope with the trauma of losing his father in a car crash six months prior.
Brent finds coping mechanisms for his traumatic grief, which include Extreme Metal music, weed, alcohol, and even self-harm. He is wounded and vulnerable. Unfortunately, there is a predator in his midst who seeks to exploit this.
Are you currently imagining an older man, perhaps a teacher at Brent’s school? Do you picture a balding, overweight, middle-aged guy creeping around the peripherals of Brent’s social circles? Did you, for one second, imagine a cute, peppy teenage girl drenched in pink from head to toe setting up invitations to prom night?
Well, strap in because it is time to discover an underrated and positively terrifying Horror icon: Lola.
Like Brent, Lola is an outsider. However, she is an outsider with sinister motives. She yearns for a date to the school prom, even if that means using coercive control to persuade her chosen Prom King. Lola has set her sights on Brent as her date, and she enlists the help of ‘Daddy’ to ensure that their perfect night together is a memorable one.
Lola is what you get if you merge Carrie White with Annie Wilkes.
Her envisioned prom night is the marriage between Pretty In Pink (1986) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)… if Andi kidnapped her dates, and Leatherface favored electronic drills.
Robin McLeavy prepared for the role of Lola by researching Jeffrey Dahmer upon Sean Byrne’s request. Many of her onscreen murders and torture methods mirror how Dahmer ‘prepared’ his victims for their Zombification process in real life.
On the 30th of August, 2012, an alcoholic man in Chester, UK, sadistically tortured and murdered his drunken friend in a frenzied attack, which eerily echoed Lola’s torture methods as depicted in The Loved Ones.
The murderer, Gary George, professed his love for the movie in court, which he claimed to have watched on repeat numerous times: his victim, Andrew Nall, sustained 49 knife wounds, which included a shape carved into his stomach with poured salt inside.
Cleaning fluid was also found in the victim’s eyes. Once again, the semblance between the cruelties inflicted by Lola in The Loved Ones and what occurred in real life adds another uneasy layer to the uncomfortable allure of Byrne’s fictitious movie.
In an era where Netflix’s main revenue stream is encompassed of documentaries detailing grisly murders, sexual assaults, the grooming of children, and animal cruelty, perhaps a Horror movie from the mid-00s deserves another look despite its grisly connotations.
Prior to filming, Byrne recommended that McLeavy also watch the works of Quentin Tarantino, particularly Natural Born Killers.
Upon rewatching The Loved Ones, I can sense the fusion of heightened violence and midnight-black humor, which is also rampant in Tarantino’s movies. The Loved Ones passed the Australian Film Board Classification process largely unscathed, thanks to the underlying comedic tone that permeates the terror.
During its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film received the ‘Cadillac People’s Choice award,’ and shortly after, Sean Byrne was offered a film deal with IFC Midnight, which led to him writing and directing the incredible The Devil’s Candy, which I also highly recommend.
At its core, The Loved Ones seeks to draw attention to trauma and how it can rewire our brains, bodies, and hearts.
The lives of each character are marred by traumatic events, and each character finds their own ways of coping with it.
There is an emotional depth to the film, which sets it aside from earlier exploitation films like The Cars That Ate People or Wake In Fright from the 1970s. Instead, Byrne presents a modern take on Australian Horror and heightens it with his believable yet deeply flawed characters.
One could argue that the enduring legacy of The Loved Ones is marred by the heinous acts carried out by Gary George. However, perhaps we can now revisit this overlooked gem, given that our current climate is so rife with entertainment that it seeks to exploit real-life tragedy.
Statistically, Australia is a country that sees around 400 reported homicides per year; therefore, it is logical that Australian filmmakers often seek inspiration from the Urban Legends whispered in their own backyards.
Fiction will always borrow heavily from reality, and fact-based fiction will always pack a more powerful emotional resonance for the viewer.
The lasting power of The Loved Ones is anchored by its incredible cast and in its writing, which effortlessly blends grisly body horror with black comedy.
The promised gore and balls-to-the-wall reputation may have led you to seek out The Loved Ones, but it is the film’s emotional resonance that will leave you rooted in your seat.
I can’t help but think that The Loved Ones may have been better received if it had been released today. The notion of a cutesy young woman committing vile acts has become somewhat of a trope in modern Horror; however, it was rarely seen at the time of the film’s release in 2009.
If you like your Horror extreme and love your Horror villains in hot pink, The Loved Ones has an invitation you cannot refuse.