Film review – The Loved Ones (2009)

31 October 2010
The Loved Ones: Brent (Xavier Samuel)

Brent (Xavier Samuel)

Still troubled by the recent death of his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) at least seems to have found some happiness in his relationship with his girlfriend. So naturally he politely turns down the offer from quiet girl Lola (Robin McLeavy) to attend the end-of-year school dance with her instead. Unfortunately for Brent, Lola is seriously unhinged and with the assistance of her equally unhinged father Eric (John Brumpton) kidnaps Brent in order for her to still have her special night. As Brent is increasingly humiliated and abused, fans of the genre will be delighted at the grotesque intensity and disturbing humour of this Australian horror by writer/director Sean Byrne.

The Loved Ones follows in the tradition of films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance and Australia’s previous horror hit Wolf Creek, of exploiting the fear that on the fringes of civilisation live an extreme form of poor-white trash who get their kicks from torturing and murdering whoever comes their way. Added to the mix is the vengeful-hysterical-woman tradition where a slighted women (or in this case one whose derangement makes her falsely believe herself to have been slighted) takes violent action against the offending male. In the case of Lola she also has the added perversity of possessing more than a hint of an Electra complex.

The Loved Ones: Lola (Robin McLeavy)

Lola (Robin McLeavy)

While The Loved Ones does have a degree of similarity to torture porn films such as the Saw franchise and Hostel, it isn’t as depressingly bleak or cruel. That’s not to say that The Loved Ones isn’t exploitive, gut-churning and nasty – it is all those things – but it delivers the shocks and scares in a way that is inventive enough to make the experience of seeing the film a lot of fun rather than an ordeal. There is also some respite from Brent’s suffering when the film switches to a tenuously linked, yet enjoyable, subplot about Brent’s stoner best friend.

There are key moments in The Loved Ones where Byrne really takes the shocks to the next level of intensity and a big part of the effectiveness of such moments is the plausibility of what is happening. You will gasp in horror at the prospect of what is about to happen and then you will giggle in delight that the film actually carries out what it threatens to.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Last Ride (2009)

4 July 2009
Kev (Hugo Weaving)

Kev (Hugo Weaving)

Very earlier in Last Ride it becomes clear that Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his son Chook (new comer Tom Russell) are on the run. This new Australian film explores the difficult father/son relationship between a young boy and his unpredictably violent father as they travel cross-country to avoid the law catching up with them.  Unfortunately this mildly gritty film doesn’t work as either a drama or a thriller.  It lacks dramatic tension as soon as it becomes obvious that the main structure of the film consists of contrasting scenes of Kev being a good father with scenes of Kev being a bit of a bastard. Also, revelations later in the film about the nature of what happened to make Kev and Chook go on the run dilute any tension.

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Film review – The Combination (2009)

5 March 2009
John (George Basha) and Sydney (Clare Bowen)

John (George Basha) and Sydney (Clare Bowen)

The first Australian film to be released theatrically in 2009 is The Combination, the directorial début by actor David Field (Unfinished Sky).  While it may be viewed as condescending to say that it is a good effort for a first-time director, it nevertheless acknowledges that while The Combination is not a perfect film, it is a very good one with excellent intentions. Set in the western suburbs of Sydney, The Combination focuses on the experiences of the current Lebanese-Australian community and the racial tensions between this community and other sections of Australian society. The film depicts both the rich cultural traditions that the Lebanese community have brought to Australia and the problem of gang violence among the younger generation. The Combination does not condone the attitudes and actions of the hotheaded young gang members but it does try to show the audience where their frustrations and anger have come from.

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