The Loved Ones starts with a father teaching his son to drive on a deserted road. As they crest a hill, a half-naked bloody figure comes into view. He's standing in the middle of the road swaying slightly, and the young driver has to swerve hard to avoid hitting the shell-shocked teenager. He can't quite correct in time and slams into a tree. Flash forward a few months, and the son, Brent, is finishing up high school. With hair just past his shoulders and large chestnut eyes, it makes perfect sense that girls would be interested in him, despite the fact that he looks exactly like a male Kristen Stewart (seriously, it's uncanny).
After talking to a friend at his locker, just before he walks away, a cute but awkward young girl named Lola summons the courage to ask Brent to go to the dance with her. He very politely declines and apologizes, explaining that he's already going with someone else. Turns out it's his girlfriend, a fact that Lola had to be aware of when she asked him, making his tactful and classy response even more impressive. But when prom night rolls around and Brent has disappeared, suspicions' rightfully run wild and all hell ends up breaking loose.
International horror and genre has been coming on strong as of late, and Australia is no slouch, boasting theatrically released films like Wolf Creek, the April limited release The Square and the Spierig Brothers one-two punch of Undead and Daybreakers, as well as some strong festival fare like Storm Warning, Van Diemen's Land and The Horseman. The Loved Ones can certainly be added to that list, and I think it'll find its audience with relative ease.
The film is paced very well, keeping the story moving at a good clip and bringing the audience along for the ride. It gets started quickly, jumping right into the meat of the story, without sacrificing character department. It sets up Brent expeditiously, as a good-looking, popular guy who hasn't grown callous and still cares about other people. It's an impressive feat, both in screenwriting and directing, to sketch out everything you need to know about a character on paper in a couple of scenes and then get the right performance out of the actor on set so that the audience buys it. It's even more impressive when you realize that writer/director Sean Byrne is tackling his first feature film here.
While the filmmakers were obviously influenced by classic horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and dark thrillers like Fatal Attraction, there are still some solid original ideas and creativity at work here. One of my favorite aspects of the story is that Brent isn't the entitled jock that so often falls into the villain's clutches. He seems like an average guy who spends his time practicing with his band in the garage, but he also comes off as a genuinely nice person. Whereas many horror films throw in characters that the audience almost wants to see die, The Loved Ones is filled with likable characters that you hope make it through. It's doubly effective in that it endears you to Brent and allows you to focus your disdain and hatred directly on the attacker.
The Loved Ones packs a lot of punch into its relatively short 84 minutes. It's definitely a hard horror film that doesn't skimp on the gore, with scenes featuring all manner of household weapons from knives to electric drills that you won't soon forgot. And yet, despite the graphic horror on display, The Loved Ones is highly entertaining and simply a lot of fun to watch. Whether it ends up getting a US theatrical release or going straight to DVD/Blu-ray, this is one horror film that's well worth seeking out.