Review: The Loved Ones (SXSW 2012)

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Music plays while a father and son are driving in the Australian country side. Scenery chews the screen around the actors in a simple but beautifully experienced frame. The conversation is light, but engaging as the son questions his father’s addictions but all the time never entering conflict, just a close-knit family discussion about questionable choices. Quick cut to a boy/man with a mutilated chest stumbling off the casting call for The Walking Dead and then crash bang, no more peaceful family. The kid looks like Eddie Vedder, can he sing like him? The father smokes and possibly is a drug addict, does that mean he has to die? Where did Fido escape from? Why does the one sheet display a girl in a prom dress? All these questions are answered in The Loved Ones.

The Loved Ones is another in a growing list of strong Australian based films. They have had a recent history with some strong films like Animal Kingdom, The Horseman and my personal recent favorite The Reef(I’m a shark nut). While a lot of the Australian dramas have been gritty and shot with a lot of grainy stock, The Loved Ones is stunningly gorgeous. Scanning the landscape, climbing cliffs or the simple location of the final showdown all are displayed with crystal clear exposure and great lighting. If I had not heard the actors speak, I would have thought I was watching a Tarsem Singh film, only with a much better plot.

This a combination of torture porn (Audition, Hostel, Turistas) and teenage prom films (Mean Girls,Grease,10 Things I hate about you) works extremely well even though there are parts that do drag a little, and others that were noticeably extended to lengthen the film. This detracts from the movie slightly, making it disjointed and at times, releasing the tension it does so well building in other places. The secondary focus on the dorky friend and the hot goth girl didn’t detract from the main story, using them as a break in the tension as they served their purpose very well in connecting all the characters while providing some teenage comic relief.

Most of the plot was somewhat predictable, but played out in a way that was both interesting to watch and entraps you in the beautiful storytelling. The leads were mostly well cast. The lead male Brent (Xavier Samuel) emanated Heath Ledger in 10 Things I hate about you with shoulder length dark hair, his brooding demeanor and a semi-reclusive personality. His girlfriend, Holly (played by the amazingly youthful 32 year old Victoria Thaine) who is a perfect painting of the sweet slutty librarian girl next door, not stunningly beautiful but incredibly cute with a enough sexiness that would drive most boys crazy. The one that almost didn’t fit their part, is the role that is always hardest to fill. In my opinion, it was an Aussie version of Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s the One, the outcast supposedly ugly girl that never pulls off ugly. Lola(Robin McLeavy), the female lead never really states that it was her looks that alienated her character from the rest of the school, and I know that her strange demeanor would have scared a lot of the other kids, but most girls that were that hot never found themselves that much of a leper. I just didn’t completely buy into her lonely craziness as much as I would have if she hadn’t been so pretty.

The film is under 90 minutes, and it moves very well. There is a decent amount of gore, and some wince inducing violence at the hands of our crazy bitch. I found my self often thinking this was a teenage version of Audition, but a lot more straight forward. The direction and skill of storytelling was on par with the Takashi Miike classic.

The Loved Ones is another strong entry in an ever increasing Australian film industry. I thought Snowtown Murders was a difficult watch, but well done. I saw The Loved Ones two weeks later, leading to a gut punching, deprived marriage of beauty and the beast in a relatively short period that will demand I watch anything I see from coming from the land down under.



Out of a Possible 5 Stars

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