Review by Jane Freebury

At 84 minutes, The Loved Ones is on the short side for a feature, however pace and economy are not the only virtues in this taut teen horror flick. It is smart, savvy, confident and has some of the artiness you might expect of a director who has cut his teeth on television commercials and prize-winning shorts. Sean Byrne understands perfectly that audiences know how to join the dots.

Like his target audience, Byrne knows the horror genre inside out, and he has had fun referencing some of the best of them – Psycho, Misery, and, yes, Wolf Creek, as well as passing references to some notorious serial killers who have operated in the Australian wilderness.

The endless stretch of straight road has its place here, but the film will be remembered for its house of horrors, an isolated, innocent-seeming weatherboard set amongst the gums that is presided over by Princess (Robin McLeavy), who has a funny way of bringing boys home to meet Daddy (John Brumpton). A lobotomised Mummy lives there too, who you could mistake for a mummified corpse until you detect a slight movement in her eyes.

Brent (Xavier Samuel, who has a touch of Heath, I think) gets dragged there when he makes the mistake of turning Lola/Princess down when she asks him to partner her to the end of school year dance. He already has a lovely steady girlfriend, Holly, so he was set up from the start, but his gentlest of rebuffs earns him a guest spot in the Princess and Daddy show, complete with revolving disco ball, balloons, banners, party hats—and steak knives and forks, along with a selection of hammers and power drills from the family home repairs business.

Throughout the show, Princess in party pink and wearing a pout, just can’t get enough of it. She’s her daddy’s girl alright. ‘Not Pretty Enough’ on the soundtrack with visuals of this sort gives teen rejection another dimension altogether. The Kasey Chambers’s lovelorn lyrics will never sound quite the same.

It’s not an out and out horror binge. The parallel world of ordinary town life is intercut with the icky bits, and gruesome as it is, there is a flash of humour here and there. This is an exciting new director’s calling card, but, with its tilt at the American teenage prom movie and the teen queen culture that goes with it, but it makes you think Byrne would have definitely been noticed with a first film in another genre. Still, as the Aussie franchise that began in Australia, Saw VII, screens in cinemas, it shows we have a way with horror.

In a capsule: Horror for its target audience, with enough of the smarts to show those who don’t belong to it that new Australian writer/director Sean Byrne is a filmmaker to watch. Excellent performances from all principals in this twisted tale of teen rejection.

3.5 stars