Next to a lakeside cabin, is there a more common setting for teen-centered horror than a school dance? Hundreds of young people gathering in the same room while emotions and libidos run high: it's a recipe for bad news. But what about the students who opt out of the academic sponsored festivities? The Loved Ones is about the sickest anti-prom you've ever seen. After the tragic death of his father, Brent wants nothing more than to spend time with his girlfriend Holly. Lola, an awkward girl obsessed with pink and happily ever afters, has other plans. Since Brent won't go to the end of the year dance with her, she'll have her daddy force him to her own end of the year dance. Just her, Brent, Daddy, and the lobotomized Bright Eyes.
Writer/director Sean Byrne does not pull any punches in The Loved Ones. This is a vicious film with no limits. The sadistic father/daughter team torture Brent for most of the film in increasingly bizarre ways. Byrne wisely hints at one of the big punishments early on in the film, creating a sense of dread as Lola gets more physical with her date.
Unfortunately, this lack of limits is the film's biggest problem. Take an early scene establishing the relationship between Brent and Holly. What starts with a little heavy petting in the car drags on to a gratuitous, passionless sex scene teetering on territory that pushed Blue Valentine into an NC-17 rating. Once the dialogue stops and the two young people are just groping each other, it does nothing to advance the story. It stops the momentum so bad that a jump scare falls completely flat afterward.
There are sequences in The Loved Ones that are terrifying. But they almost all go that one step too far. It's not that they become too shocking or cross some unmentionable taboo. They just start to drag on long after the point is made. It actually decreases the impact of some of the more gruesome scenes because the camera lingers too long on the early violence and mayhem.
Honestly, what saves so much of the film is Robin McLeavy's performance. Her Lola is one of the more fully realized sociopaths in horror cinema. There's this delicate balance between spoiled little princess and sadist. Lola is Veruca Salt crossed with Hannibal Lecter. The difference is that no one is strong enough to tell her no or contain her. She's a free spirited youth with a taste for mayhem and the survival skills of Jason Vorhees.
Buried deep within The Loved Ones is a good horror movie. In its current form, it's just a little too freewheeling to truly succeed.
Thoughts on The Loved Ones?