THE LOVED ONES (2009)

THE LOVED ONES (2009)
Review by Paul McMahon, “The Distracted Critic”

TLO - poster 1

I came to THE LOVED ONES (2009) through an online conversation in which someone who’d seen it insisted I hunt it down. To convince me, he stated that Lola Stone was “the most intense female psychopath put to film, with the possible exception of La Femme from INSIDE (2007).”

How could I pass up a challenge like that?

I jotted down the craziest female psychopaths I could remember. Asami from AUDITION (1999). Annie Wilkes from MISERY (1990). Baby Firefly from THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005). Pamela Voorhees. Baby Jane Hudson. May. So many more.

Then I popped in THE LOVED ONES and prepared to be amazed.

The movie opens with a teenager driving with his Dad. It’s made clear that the teen, Brent (Xavier Samuel, Riley in TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE, 2010 and TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN 2, 2012) is getting experience for his driver’s license. They chat about the car, Brent insisting it’s crap while his Dad says it’s the best car he’s ever owned.

“You were conceived in the back of this car,” he says, and laughs at his son’s reaction.

In a blink, a bloodied and half naked man appears in the road. Brent swerves around him, over corrects, and smashes into a tree.

We’re told it’s six months later. Brent’s father was killed in the crash. Brent now wears a double-edged razor blade on a chain around his neck and is cutting his arms pretty regularly. While Brent’s friend Jaime asks the school’s hot Goth chick to the End of School Dance, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy, ABE LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2012), shyly asks Brent to the dance.

“Sorry, Lola,” he says. “I’m going with Holly. Sorry.”

Soon after, Holly picks Brent up from school. She’s gotten her license. She takes Brent parking. While they’re doing the deed, we look up through the car window and see Lola Stone, staring, watching, glaring. It’s a clue we’ve seen in a hundred films that mousy Lola is not all there.

Later on, Brent’s mother offers him money to take a cab to the dance, insisting that he have someone with experience drive them tonight. They argue and Brent runs off. He finds a stone cliff and begins to climb. He’s obviously been here before, and he flirts with throwing himself off now and again. Once he reaches the top, he collapses, exhausted, and suddenly there’s a man holding a rag over his mouth until he passes out.

Holly arrives at Brent’s house and finds only his mother who is worried that Brent has not returned. Then Brent’s dog shows up, bloodied, broken, and crawling on his belly. They’re on the phone to the sheriff soon after.

Always a bad way to wake up.

Always a bad way to wake up.

From here, the movie becomes torture-porn. It’s a sub-genre of horror that I personally tired of a long time ago. The thing about torture-porn is, there are only so many implements of pain, there are only so many body parts you can mutilate with them and there are only so many ways a person can scream. Sure, you can get creative in the editing room, and first-time writer-director Sean Byrne, with editor Andy Canny, have done everything they can, cutting away and cutting back in tempo with the search efforts of the town Sheriff, with Jaime and the Goth chick obliterating themselves with pot and booze in the school parking lot, and with Holly poking around her missing boyfriend’s bedroom. Still, if a movie of this sort is going to rise above the crap that’s out there, it’s got to tell a story alongside the bloodshed.

I was impressed to find a story here. Actually, there’s a different story for each character, and Mr. Byrne does a masterful job keeping us up with who’s suffering through what. The nature of their issues keeps the characters from ever really connecting with each other. Brent’s problems are completely internal; Lola and her Daddy have the type of problems that don’t allow for interactions with anyone but each other. The one time Holly and Brent’s mom start to have a real conversation, they are interrupted by the sheriff, who has his hands full with his own problems. In effect, we get characters that are more interesting than average bouncing around each other while wrapped up in themselves. It’s a bold strategy, and it all hangs together to sharpen the isolated tone of the film.

The most natural performance was by Fred Whitlock as Brent’s dad, and he was gone from the movie in the first few minutes. John Brumpton (THE HUNTER, 2011), who plays Lola’s dad, managed to be creepy in a bunch of different ways; as a dad who would do anything his child asked, as a father who would destroy anyone that caused his girl the slightest disappointment, as a lonely man confused by lustful feelings toward his own daughter. The other actors put forth good work, but seemed subdued, possibly due to the director’s decision to keep the characters apart.

Which brings us to Lola Stone. Robin McLeavy’s performance was crazy in the manner of a spoiled rich kid, which was a surprising choice in that she lived with her dad in a run-down shack and supplemented their diet with roadkill Daddy brought home. Despite my Internet friend’s insistence, Lola is a far cry from the “craziest female psycho ever put to film.” She’d be very lucky to crack the top twenty. Lola’s dad did the hard work, subduing Brent and bringing him home. Can’t imagine Annie Wilkes or Asami ever needing help to capture their prey. Daddy also coached Lola on how to use syringes and power tools. No one ever had to tell Baby Firefly or Pamela Voorhees “Push a little harder, sweetheart.” Left to her own devices, I can’t even see Lola Stone placing above Catherine Tremell from BASIC INSTINCT (1992) or Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (1987).

Probably how Veruca Salt from WILLIE WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY would have turned out had she grown up poor in the Australian outback.

Probably how Veruca Salt from WILLIE WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY would have turned out had she grown up poor in the Australian outback.

In all, though, THE LOVED ONES managed to offer a surprise or two for this type of movie. The camera work was pretty good, Zeljka Stanin’s make-up effects were excellent, and the unusual storytelling technique catches your attention. The biggest point against the film would have to be a pretty important plot point that disappears without an explanation.

I give THE LOVED ONES two-and-a-half stars, with no time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

TLO - poster 2

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