The Loved Ones is a 2009 horror film from Australia. It has been on my “to watch” list for a long time, with no real reason for my not having gotten around to it. It is considered one of the top horror films from Australia and is often featured on top foreign horror lists. Other than that and the intriguing poster which features a girl in pink with a drill I actually knew nothing about it. Going in unaware is probably the best way to experience this movie, but it is also rather hard to discuss without some spoilers.
Brent is a high school boy who is asked to the dance by Lola. Lola is a seemingly shy and insecure girl while Brent is dealing with depression and guilt. The comparison of the two works rather well because when Brent turns Lola down (he is already dating somebody) she goes… a little crazy. Lola’s father kidnaps Brent and takes them to their home where Brent discovers just how messed up Lola, and her father are.
Throughout the movie, we are treated to an excellent blend of macabre humor, heartbreaking character development, and truly messed up gore and torture. The mix and range of so many different emotions and reactions can be hard to pull off, but The Loved Ones managed to do so fairly well. There would be scenes where I found myself uncomfortably amused, immediately followed by hiding behind my hands because of the torment I was viewing. All of this happens while we see several stories unfold. Not only did I feel like I was kept guessing over how they would all meet, but I was moved by many of the emotional moments that the movie had. A few of the critical plot moments were a little predictable, although that doesn’t make them bad, but there were also some unexpected gut punches that happened.
The horror itself is largely focused on the torment that is happening to Brent, with a high focus on gore, as I said. I am a person that tends to prefer suspense and can be turned off by torture scenes. However, when they are done right, they are effective, and The Loved Ones is done right. There is a good balance of what the movie shows you and doesn’t. Due to the nature of what Brent is going through this movie could have easily been pushed far enough that I wouldn’t have wanted to finish it which is what makes the “implied horror” of this movie so important. The movie is not afraid to go full tilt when it needs to, several scenes are pretty in your face and bloody. Several other scenes, however, use sounds and the visual reactions of Brent’s face rather than detailed torture. I both love and hate this, but I acknowledge that it’s damn smart, and it also stops the audience from fully desensitizing to what they are experiencing.
It also manages to be highly suspenseful at the same time. Brent is not passive throughout the movie, and we also know that he is being looked for so each time we flash away from Lola and her father the questions about Brent surviving, how much will he have to endure, how will the other characters be brought in, and many others all start to build. Also, Lola informs Brent (and thus the audience) pretty early in his torment that they have been doing this for years, and the unsettling feeling that there is something more happening starts to stick with you throughout. It is not the most suspenseful movie I have ever seen, but there were more than enough edge of your seat moments to separate this movie from just “torture porn.”
The movie is well-acted with Lola and her father truly leaning into their creepy dynamic. The background characters also do a great job. In fact, Brent is probably the weakest link in this movie, although once again the actor does not give a bad performance, just one that is slightly overshadowed by others.
Sound design is almost perfect. As mentioned, a lot of the implied horror scenes focus on what you are hearing, and they are perfectly executed. I will likely never look at a drill the same way again. However, the creepy main song that Lola is obsessed with is a bit overused, in my opinion. I get why it was chosen and the feeling it was supposed to invoke in the audience, but it didn’t land well for me. Honestly, that is such a mild complaint in the grand scheme of things.
In truth, the movie managed to keep me both fascinated and horrified throughout, which is exactly what I want. I can see why it is considered one of the best horror movies to come out of Australia, but I don’t think it needs that qualifier. I think it’s one of the best modern horror films full-stop. Given its age, I would imagine most genre fans have already watched it, and it’s just me that is terribly late to the party. However, if you haven’t seen it yet, I would say do so. I loved it and can’t wait to get my hands on more Australian horror.