Midnight Madness day 4: The Loved Ones (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 4.
Lineups are getting shorter outside the Ryerson in the moments leading up to the witching hour.  That's not to say that the films being screened are of any less merit than the previous three - quite the contrary, in fact.  It is simply evidence of the average moviegoer is more likely to attend a film in which the entire Hollywood starlet cast will be in attendance, or they'll have a chance to ask a few probing questions of a few acting legends, or gaze upon the creator of some of the most seminal walking dead films ever.  However, with that out of the way - with the lack of recognizable names and deepening weirdness, the casual moviegoer is less inclined to take a chance on "one of those crazy midnight movies".  It is entirely to their detriment, though, and to the benefit of Kris and I finding decent seats in the crush to do so.  You see, as Kris mentioned in his Romero review, the stars have gone and the novelty for the curious has worn off, and coupled with the reality of getting to bed by 3 am (at the very earliest) only to have to rise and go to work a scant few hours later turns a lot of people off.  For this often leads to a sort of mania, a celluloid psychosis where dreams begin to fuse with reality, and ghosts can be seen in broad daylight.  We're lucky to have jobs that facilitate perfectly the MM schedule, and its attendant debauchery.

Last night's film, newbie Aussie director Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones, truly signalled the beginning of MM to me.  It also served as this year's "extreme film", of which there is one every year, seemingly designed solely to shock and gross out and generally mortify the audience.  I didn't find The Loved Ones to be that shocking, though, especially when compared to the previous couple films that have occupied this role at MM, Frontier(e)s, Inside, and Martyrs.  There were some cringe-worthy moments, for certain, but the overall effectiveness of the film lay in its unique pacing, building of tension, and outright chillingness of the female lead, Robin McLeavy, doing her best Kathy Bates-in-Misery impression, and damn near pulling it off.  And just when you think it's going to be a straightforward teen horror, things take a turn for the weeeeeeiiiirrrrrrrrdddddd......

Essentially a study in teenage obsession and loss, The Loved Ones ultimately succeeds as a horror film, despite a few missteps along the way.  Because it doesn't rely solely on its gory money-shots and focuses more on the madness of the female lead (with some seriously fucked up daddy issues), her insane but willing father, and the bizarre and gruesome details of what goes on within the walls of their little farmhouse, it transcends the incredibly stigmatized and grievously misunderstood "torture porn" subgenre.  Toss in some gorgeous cinematography and set design, and a pretty good understanding by the director of what works and what doesn't in the genre, and you've got a pretty decent flick.  I didn't love it, but didn't feel like I had wasted my time either.  The final scene is brutal, hilarious, and cathartic, and will have you singing quietly to yourself "Am I Not Pretty Enough?"...

Anyway, a very solid first effort by Byrne; he'll be one to watch in the genre for years to come, I hope.  And Scott won't watch this one either.

-the coelacanth
Day 4 of Midnight Madness hosted the best film at the festival so far, first time director's Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is an Australian horror centering around prom night. Not what you might think, the film deceptively turns the genre on its head blending laughs and blood so flawlessly without ever feeling cheap or awkward.
It's one part Carrie, one part John Hughes, and two parts Misery.

The story splits it time between a kid named Brent, a pot smokin' metal head, who is dealing with his fathers death who died in a car accident. Brent just so happened to be driving the car at the time.
The other half of the story focuses on Brent's friend Sac and his prom date with hot goth girl Mia.

The dual storyline seems awkward at first. Whereas Brent's storyline is where the horror lies, Sac and Mia's is where the comedy is.
At first i didn't enjoy how the film jumped back and forth between the stories because i felt they didn't congeal well as they both went in completely different directions. In retrospect, the dual storyline really works for the film, during the horror scenes the film pushes you to your absolute limit. Sean Byrne is very aware of the audience as once you've been pushed he throws you back at the prom and ingeniously these scenes feel like they were designed to help you catch your breath before he shoves you back into hell.

Something must be said for Robin McLeavy's stunning performance as Lola. She delivers a Kathy Batesesque (circa Misery) performance so hypnotizing and deranged that it is destined to join the cannon of the greatest villains of horror. I'm talking people will dress up like her for hallowe'en.
Of course that depends on if this gem even gets picked up for release in North America and there's no good left in this world if it doesn't.

Films like The Loved Ones is what makes Midnight Madness one of the most reknown film programmes in the world.

Tonight i shudder as Joe and i take on Bitch Slap, a Russ Meyer/Sports Illustrated hybrid of a film made by the same people who made Xenia and Hercules.... so i guess that's Sam Raimi?