Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: The Loved Ones

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

I am officially back in the Midnight Madness groove. Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is one of Geddes' best finds of recent years; in fact it serves much like a compendium of tropes and aesthetics that define the most notable MM flicks of late. It's Australian (Not Quite Hollywood), it stars a bunch of good-looking young Aussie actors and is set is a creepy, forboding suburb (Acolytes), it flirts with the depravity of torture porn (Saw, Hostel) but injects some tension-releasing inky black humour (Severance) and surreal nightmarish camera angles (take your pick of Miike's offerings). One of the actresses is even a near-doppelganger of Megan Fox although, you know, real. Personally, I thought Wolf Creek was an overrated bore, but The Loved Ones, along with last year's two Australian MM offerings, restores my faith in horror from down under.

What is it about the other side of the world that seems to revitalize horror every few years right around the time that the American scene seems to forget how to thrill and chill? As our multiplexes get such hackneyed junk as A Haunting In Connecticut, and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane doesn't even get a Canadian release, and just the ad campaign for Sorority Row is giving me dull Valentine flashbacks (Does anyone remember that one? David Boreanaz and Denise Richards' boobs, towards the ass end of the post-Scream American slasher trend early this decade? Yeah, I didn't think so...), and somebody insists on continuing to give Rob Zombie money to piss all over one of the few decent franchises in the whole stinkin' genre...we need some fresh blood. As it were.

And Byrne might as well be a player in a potential Oz invasion. He was a wonderfully shaggy and event-struck presence at the afternoon screening--he had a certain "holy shit, I can't believe I'm at this festival!" nervousness happening as he took questions. He cited the usual early-seventies influences but also mentioned that he was shooting for some Lynchian "peel back the veneer of polite society" surrealism which is always a risky proposition, but to his credit he pulled off a certain type of creeping dread not too dissimilar to Lynch at his creepiest. Yes, The Loved Ones has more than its fair share of rendered flesh and bloody viscera, but it has the simple goal in mind of scaring the snot out of the audience in addition to grossing them out. In the characters of Lola Stone and her father, Byrne has created two of the most unsettling yet hypnotic horror film villains in years; they're not supernatural boogeymen, but nor are they the "you'd never have imagined" quiet types who are supposed to lend "realism" to far too many lousy horror flicks with pretentions. They're monsters, plain and simple, and the mere thought of being at their mercy is frightening in a downright primal way.

Good on ya, mate. (***1/2)

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