THE LOVED ONES Review [SXSW 2010’s Midnight Surprise]

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Written and Directed by Sean Byrne, 2009

I’ve been running Horror’s Not Dead for a little over four years now.  If you’ve been reading the site for any decent length of time, you can probably trace how my tastes have cultivated over the years and how from time to time I’ll stumble upon an indie or foreign gem that I love to stamp the HND seal of approval all over.  Well, it’s time to break out the letterhead here at HND; I’m calling that dusty old stamp (which I feel like I haven’t really broken out since J. T. Petty’s THE BURROWERS) back into action for THE LOVED ONES.  I know that most readers out there are not going to be able to rush out and see this criminally good time from Australia, but you’d do well to bump Sean Byrne’s dark and brutal horror comedy to the top of your mental list of titles to keep an eye out for.

It’s about an already-spoken-for senior, Brent, who turns down Lola, a cute and clearly shy girl, when she asks him to be her prom date.  Brent, who is clearly not a popular kid in school, in fact he’s recently become kind of a loner and a pothead after his father died in car accident, is quite kind when turning down the meek lass, but such kindness is lost on little Lola.  Her father then proceeds to kidnap Brent and force him to be Lola’s date to a lovely prom that happens to take place in their kitchen.

That’s basically it, plot-wise, actually.  Indeed it is this lean, uncomplicated plot that is one of first time writer/director Sean Byrne’s greatest strengths.  It’s not bogged down by unnecessary side stories (though we do get periodic glimpses of how Brent’s best friend’s date at the actual prom is going) or weighty exposition surrounding why Brent has become such a loner. No, THE LOVED ONES is a blazing 84 minutes of constant one-upmanship.  Every time you begin to think Byrne couldn’t possibly top how outrageous poor Brent’s night is becoming, he savagely shoves adrenaline needles into the heart of the film scene after scene until it transforms into a ravaged, bold, and bloody as hell beast that will have you laughing and cringing with alarming regularity.

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