Thursday, October 4, 2012
The Loved Ones
A few years ago I applied the term "nu-horror" to a subgenre I had noticed was becoming more popular: a style of horror that sought to mix the over-the-top goofiness of 80's horror/comedies like Evil Dead 2 with the gut-punch, viscerally disturbing vibe of tortured themed horror movies like Hostel. Often I find that this style just doesn't work; the tones clash and you're left with a movie that's too dreary to be funny and too ridiculous to be disturbing. This scrappy little Australian flick manages to do a decent job of striking that balance, however, by reigning in the dark humor and the torture so that neither overpowers the film. There are drugings, beatings, feet pinned to floor via knife, powerdrills to the brain, and a serious threat made towards a penis, but it never reaches Martyrs levels of sickening misery. Likewise, there's some goofy teenage shit going on, a lot of fucked up darkly comedic dialogue by the father and daughter, and some moments of over-the-top gore, but it never flies off the rails into complete silliness.
The Loved Ones' secret weapon is Robin McLeavy, the actress who plays the psycho girl. This isn't one of those performances where she's a shy and abused girl from a bad household with conflicted motives; she's a gleeful, vindictive psycho who has no illusions about what she's doing. She enjoys making people suffer and she manipulates her father by playing to his obvious sexual attraction to her. McLeavy's performance is freaky, funny and, uh, a little sexy.
The film is far from perfect. Much time is wasted on a fitfully amusing subplot about the protagonist's best friend's prom date that, as far as I could tell, has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Likewise, the film keeps cutting back to the protagonist's girlfriend and mom, who don't seem to do much. I suspect these subplots are there to give the audience a breather and inject some levity, but most of it comes off as filler, and it takes up a good chunk of the film.
One touch I'm not sure I like is that after his abduction, the hero is given an injection that paralyzes his vocal chords, and he spends the rest of the film unable to talk. I suppose this adds to his helplessness, and there's certainly nothing wrong with the actor's subsequent physical performance, but it does steal some of the drama away from the scenario. By removing his ability to talk back, all the big scenes can feel a little one sided, and the ostensible hero takes too much of a backseat to the freaks.
That said, the movie has one pretty good weirdass twist up its sleeve (although it's done better in Lucky McKee's The Woman), and does build to a pretty satisfying ending. I guess the real "loved ones" are the folks in the audience.*
*Final line of post written by Gene Shallit.