The Loved Ones 👑


*** mild spoilers ahead ***

*** beware: this film includes scenes of torture and themes of suicide ***

The Loved Ones (2009) is set in the usual small town high school backdrop we've all come to expect in the slasher genre. The story gets rolling just before prom: the geeky boy is going with the goth girl, and the weird girl is rejected by the lead guy...
The first thing that sets The Love Ones apart is that it begins with the depression of the lead, Brent (Xavier Samuel), who blames himself for his father's death (the car accident shown in the opening scene). Few high school horror films dive deep into its protagonist's mental state quite like this one. Via only its action, the scene of Brent climbing up a cliff speaks for itself: it's a stressful sequence that demonstrates Brent's apathy for his own life. At the top of the climb he smokes some weed and looks out, not with a sense of accomplishment but with a dejected gaze. You get a sense that he's been climbing the cliff regularly for the last six month as a suicidal trial, waiting for the day that he'll slip or willingly let go. 
The other thing that sets The Love Ones apart is Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy), the unpopular girl that Brent rejects in the beginning of the film. As the central slasher villain of this story, she subverts the standard casting of a brutish man. Her father is the muscle. She is the leader, even if she embodies the teenage girl aesthetic: glitter, a pink dress, and scrap booking. The torture Lola unleashes is no less gruesome. It's actually the most devastating violence I've, so far, seen this month.


*** full spoilers ahead ***


Lola's demented prom dinner with the captured Brent and her family is reminiscent of the Sawyer family dinner in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the place of Sally, Brent sits in as the final boy. The film is most aware of the gender-swap when Lola asks Brent to prove that the chicken their having is finger lickin’ good. She coerces him to suck her finger and leans her head back in pleasure. It's not a subtle allusion to rape. It stands out as a mockery of the assaults enacted on women in more prurient slasher films. Incidentally (?), a few years after the release of the film, KFC stopped using its tagline: finger lickin' good

Things get worse for Brent. I mean, first we notice that Lola's poor mother sits at the table in a daze with a bloody hole in her forehead. Is it a bullet wound? No. It's beyond the pale. The Stones drill holes into their victims forehead so they can pour boiling water in and effectively lobotomize them. They may keep them around in their basement like rabid dogs, feeding them corpses. Thanks to the camera angle, the drilling of Brent's skull wasn't too explicit, yet I felt it in my bones all the same. The fear of painful death and loss was too much for me last night, actually; I had to pause and walk away for a bit. Though I appreciate how the film takes time to show the worry of Brent's family/friends. Too often teens are treated like fodder in slasher films, so it's nice to see Brent's life treated with more dignity. His torture is also an effective narrative device that pits his struggle to survive with his previous suicidal tendencies. 

Conversely, the B-plot of Brent's friend going to the prom with Mia seemed extravagant. It was a side-story about a geeky boy's sex fantasy coming true. It felt part of another high school drama that doesn't give the teens much depth beyond being horny opportunists. Perhaps if they had worked together with Holly (Brent's gf) to find Brent, their plot would've fit better. It just so happens that Mia's father is a cop, whom Holly calls to investigate the Stone house. At least, the film doesn't end with the police saving the day. Cop dad gets offed almost immediately. 

Robin McLeavy does great as the sociopath Lola Stone, but by the end of the film, I wanted more from her besides her unconcerned cruelty. Sean Byrne (writer/director) employed a simple twist to the slasher formula by making Lola Stone the vicious killer, but missed out on fully exploring the gender dynamics of the genre. Involving a woman behind the scenes would likely have provided a deeper take. That's not to say that The Loved Ones doesn't provide freshness and significant dread. It's a proper evolution of a genre that had its height in the '70s and '80s.

Anyway, The Loved Ones, got me thinking about how we combat murder in the real world. After seeing such a distressing movie, one might think filmmakers need to pull back for the sake of us all. I mean, before this film I never conceived of such a vile concept like brain-boiling. Surely, that might inspire some demented evil-doer?  In fact, it sort of did in 2013. Cleaning fluid was found in the eyes of tortured and murdered victim (he was vulnerable and homeless). At the sentencing, the judge described the crime as the murderer acting-out one of the his most liked films: The Loved Ones. Movies have been blamed for grisly murderers for decades. But we all know there have been awful people around since forever and disturbed killers kill regardless of the media they consume.

The answer isn't to sanitize horror flicks. It's not to increase the presence of cops, either. As we see in The Loved Ones, by the time they get to the scene it's already too late. We have to stop murder before it happens, the best we can. I don't mean we employ some authoritarian A.I. technology to track potential "criminals." We have to start building a society that cares for the mentally unstable and provides for the needy. All our basic needs need to be met first (food, shelter, health care) before we end murder. A society that normalizes care and makes it accessible to all is a society that limits the circumstance that lead to violence. No longer should people feel alienated from their neighbors, community, or their labor. Imagine if we all could feel supported by our fellow humans. We would feel safer from violence, whether it comes from an individual, a company, or a state. Horror movies would be reflections of a past world and not of our own.

Uh... That may sound like idealist commie pipe-dreams, but even so, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve the world. We can start by working toward accessible healthcare and housing. 

But back to the movie horror... it's been great to watch the genre grow in these last 21 days. But I'm also starting to wonder when I'll come across a scary movie that examines "horror" from a clear materialist perspective as opposed to movies that use the genre as a way to comment on broad human anxieties. I guess, some I've watched thus far have certainly flirted with specific real-world horrors. In the 2020s, I'm hoping to see bolder takes.

I'll have to write more on this once the challenge is over...



This has been day 21 of 31 days of horror.