I first heard about it in some horror magazine in an article that was probably titled something like “The Top 10 Horror Movies That You’ve Never Seen.” See, the tragedy is that The Loved Ones has not been released theatrically outside of Australia. You can’t buy it or rent it in the US; the only way to see it has been film festivals and torrent sites (there’s a UK Region 2 DVD).
So why recommend a movie that most people can’t even see? Because it’s too good not to.
That said, I do need to offer a caveat. There are some very intense scenes of violence and gore.
But to call this a horror movie is to sell it short if by “horror movie” one implies it’s simply a genre film. By every measure, this is some top notch filmmaking—better than a lot of the more pretentious films that get so much praise. The Loved Ones is beautifully directed and edited, superbly acted, and very well written (both the dialogue and the story structure). Oh, and the music kicks ass. The scoring is minimal and subtle; most of the music in the movie is presented as diagetic sound, but chosen carefully to match the emotional tone of the scenes perfectly. This makes the world feel real. Combine that with believable characters and dialogue, and an emotionally true setup, and it all makes the horror that comprises the entire middle section of the movie that much more horrific.
But by praising the realism, I’m not saying that the movie isn’t cinematic. It is. Beautifully so. And I think that dance between creating a world that feels real, yet using all of the grammar of film to amplify the emotions of the story, is what I like most about this movie.
If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…
The film stumbles just a little at the end when it finally does embrace a standard horror movie convention: It’s not enough to kill the villain; you must kill them again and again, and mutilate them if at all possible. Call it Terminator-itis.
In fact, there was a moment where I wouldn’t have been surprised if the protagonist said (if he could speak, that is), “You’re terminated, fucker.”
Fortunately, it’s a small stumble. Even when this movie devolves to genre conventions, it’s still so well-crafted you don’t really mind.
The last comment I want to make is about story. Robert McKee (love him or hate him, he’s right about this) says that story is structure. And this story is engineered so skillfully I think it should be studied in writing classes. We ultimately discover that every scene in the film is connected by—and almost every character is motivated by—the central villain’s horrific actions. I hope that I can someday write a story as tightly structured as this one.
Try to find this movie. And try not to let my enthusiasm ruin it by getting your expectations too high. This could equally be described as an uncomfortable film, a challenging film, and dare I say a fun film. But whatever you call it, I, for one, think it’s a great film.
[Update: As of 9/11/2012, The Loved Ones is available in the US on DVD! Finally!]