The Ozploitation market has had something of a resurgence in recent years, from the good – Wolf Creek, The Horseman, Undead, to the indifferent – Rogue, and the bad – Storm Warning. The scene as a whole, from the early 70s onwards, was celebrated in entertaining style in the engaging documentary Not Quite Hollywood:The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation, and The Loved Ones, written and directed by Sean Byrne in his feature debut, falls squarely into this territory. Byrne’s movie, which picked up a People’s Choice Award at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, a low budget combination of dark comedy and extreme violence is a short, sharp and gruesomely witty experience. A very knowing exercise in genre film-making, The Loved Ones has its tongue placed firmly in cheek but also delivers on the gross out front with some intense, graphic scenes of violence, humiliation and outright demented behaviour.
The set up is ostensibly a transference of the American high school prom movie (in both its comedy and horror forms) to a quiet community in the Australian countryside. Heavy rock music, dope, cars and getting laid occupy the thoughts of the teens, but one of them is definitely not what she seems. Byrne’s film has noticeable elements of Carrie and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, whilst retaining its own distinct atmosphere, as emotionally troubled, self-harming teen Brent ( Xavier Samuel, Riley in Twilight:Eclipse), unwittingly exposes himself and those he cares for to horrific danger by turning down quiet and awkward Lola’s (Robin McLeavy) invitation to the end of school year dance. Kidnapped by Lola’s father Eric, played by veteran Aussie actor John Brumpton of Romper Stomper fame, Brent is subjected to all manner of degradation and violence as his captors, revealing themselves to be sadistic killers, take revenge on him for spurning Lola’s advances. A ‘dinner party’ with Brent as the guest of honour (a delirious homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s similar sequence), forms the film’s core scene and disintegrates into a orgy of brutality involving forks, drills, boiling water, attempted lobotomies and finally cannibalism. With the local police officer alerted to Brent’s disappearance, and his mother and girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine), desperate for his safe return the director increases the tension, black humour and gruesome set pieces as The Loved Ones hurtles towards a blood soaked conclusion. In between the bloodletting and scenes of torture Byrne’s script introduces a dark incestuous angle to the relationship between Lola and her father, and the movie as a whole riffs on damaged families, with dead, missing, troubled and emotionally scarred characters dominating the movie.
The simple plot is executed with admirable enthusiasm by cast and crew alike, McLeavy and Brumpton in particular wholeheartedly embody their warped and sadistic characters. Samuel convincingly portrays his traumatized character, especially as he is rendered mute by a paralyzing injection for much of the film, and the supporting cast are uniformly strong. The potentially tricky combination of comedy and disturbing violence is deftly handled and the inspired use of Kasey Chambers nauseatingly twee ballad ‘Not Pretty Enough’ as Lola’s ‘theme’ comically twists the song’s yearning lyrics into something altogether darker and more disturbing. Clocking in at a brief 75 minutes The Loved Ones is compact, tightly constructed and joyously over the top. The small budget Byrne and his colleagues had to work with is not overtly in evidence, much to the production’s credit, and a future status as a cult hit within the horror world is very much on the cards for this darkly entertaining movie.