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The Loved Ones

Year: 2009
Production Co: Ambience Entertainment
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavey, Victoria Thaine, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Jessica McNamee, Andrew S Gilbert

An absolutely winning horror comedy, something we rarely see from Australian directors in any genre. It's all the more unusual because it combines elements that would completely hobble any other film. First, it's torture porn, a device much overused and getting boring nowadays. The gore and violence promised by the marketing imagery is more than fulfilled. Second, it's about a guy stuck in one place and the horrors he endures, much like 127 Hours. But writer/director Byrne wrangles a film with barely a single down scene or dry stretch.

Damaged kid Brent (Samuel) turns down Lola's (McLeavey) invitation to the high school dance. He's still grieving the death of his father in a car he was driving months before and has retreated from life, his friends, his mum and school. So he barely thinks twice about knocking back the quiet, shy Lola's request – he'll be going with his pretty girlfriend Holly (Thaine).

Mistake. It's hard to decide the bigger psychopath between Lola and her unhinged father Daddy (Brumpton), who'll do anything – no matter how macabre – to give his precious princess what she wants. Whenever Lola wants a boy, Daddy kidnaps and ties him up in their remote country house and the pair of them torture, maim and often murder the victim as sadistically as possible, a fate Brent soon learns he's up for.

Structurally the film handles the one-note plot by cutting away to several subplots. One is Holly and Brent's mother and their worry about Brent's disappearance, local cop Paul (Gilbert) getting involved. The other is Brent's friend Jamie (Wilson) and hot emo Mia (McNamee), Paul's daughter, at the dance Brent's supposed to be at with Holly. We learn later on Mia is so angry after the disappearance of her brother, another victim of Daddy and Lola's.

It veers towards dangerously over the top territory near the climax with the cellar full of zombies (don't ask, just watch it), but by that time you've seen Daddy hammer Brent's feet to the floor with knives, Lola carve a loveheart into his chest and the pair of them drill a hole in his head and the film's safely in schlock territory.

Ironically it's all played straight and somehow works. Even details like the end titles and music are strangely beautiful, and the entire enterprise is very high quality from start to finish.

A high point is McLeavey (who I haven't seen since 48 Shades), so beautiful she'd make any movie worth watching even if it was rubbish.

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