The Loved Ones review (Blu-ray)

The horror genre has seen a resurgence in Australia thanks to brilliant fare such as Rogue and Wolf Creek. And here comes another film to add to that list, Sean Byrne's terrific high school comic horror/drama The Loved Ones.

High-schooler Brent (Samuel) is suffering from depression, and given to bouts of self-mutilation,  after being the driver in a car accident that killed his father. Struggling to cope with life, and his mother's emotional collapse, the only high point in Brent’s life is Holly (Thaine), his beautiful girlfriend. As the end-of-year dance approaches, another problem rears its not-so-ugly head: Lola (McLeavy), the awkward school loner, who has her eye on Brent as HER date for the dance. And what Lola wants, Lola usually gets. Although she goes largely unnoticed at school, Lola always gets her way at home – and her darling demented Daddy (Brumpton) is only too happy to help. So when Brent turns down her invite to the dance, Lola has her dad kidnap Brent and make him attend her "alternative" dance. One that involves pink satin, syringes, nails, knives and a touch of surgery ... with a power drill.

The Loved Ones has been dubbed "Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek", and that's a pretty accurate comparison. It's half angst-ridden teen high-school flick, and half a pretty decent "torture-porn" nasty. Much is being made, in the film's marketing, of the pedigree of star Samuel, who has appeared in one of the Twilight films. And yes, he's a decent-enough actor. But the real star here is the very talented McLeavy, who has created a screen psycopath that can easily rank alongisde Norman Bates, Jack Torrance, Patrick Bateman and Annie Wilkes. In the scenes set at school you barely notice the quiet, shy Lola. But once she has Brent in her clutches, tied to a chair in her kitchen (with his foot fastened to the floor with a knife), then her true colours come bursting through – she's completely insane, and takes great delight in torturing Brent in a bid to make him love her. First-time writer/director Byrne has crafted a very clever little shocker here, with some nice touches of gore and plenty of humour. With a debut effort such as this, it's clear we could have another Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson in the making.

EXTRAS ½ A shockingly poor selection of bonus features for a Blu-ray release – just some short interviews with Byrne and cast members McLeavy, Samuel, Brumpton and Mcnamee; and 1½ minutes of B-roll footage. It's a shame that such a good film is let down so badly on the extras front.• Interview with Robin McLeavy at Film4 FrightFest 2010

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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