Sean Byrne The Loved Ones Review

Sean Byrne The Loved Ones Review

The Loved Ones Review

Cast: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Jessica McNamee, Victoria Thaine
Director: Sean Byrne
Genre: Horror
Rated: MA
Running Time: 80 minutes

Synopsis: The storyline follows 17-year-old student Brent (played by Xavier Samuel) who is traumatised after the death of his father in a car accident for which he feels responsible. Wracked with guilt, Brent goes on a bender of pot smoking and loud heavy metal music in his attempt to block out the pain.

Six months later, Brent is asked out to the school prom by Lola Stone (chillingly portrayed by Robin McLeavy), the quietest girl in school. When he turns her down, the rejection enrages her and with the help of her Daddy, she kidnaps Brent and gives him a prom night he will never forget.

Verdict: Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones ticks all the boxes of a good horror flick- absolutely shocking, copious amounts of blood and thrilling tension.

WARNING: If you're squeamish, then expect to hold your hands over your eyes and ears, for most of this movie.

I did spent a small amount of the movie trying to work out which exit was closer because I really thought I was going vomit. Even worse, after the movie I made my partner take his power drill from the garage and lock it in his van and the next morning I couldn't even make myself a cup of tea from the sight of the kettle…

From the first scene we are startled by Learner driver Brent (Xavier Samuel) swerving for a mutilated body, in the middle of the road, and crashing into a tree; a car accident that kills his father.

Six months later we are introduced to joyful yet, twisted Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) the schools 'mysterious nerd' and even weirder father who kidnap Brent, on the night of the school dance, and put him through numerous repulsive experiences that will make your belly-clench.

Xavier Samuel is amazing in his performance as Brent; he is able to encapsulate the character without having much dialogue, at all! The worst thing about The Loved Ones is that I won't be able to watch Riley (Xavier Samuel) in Twilight Eclipse without shivering at memories of this movie. Probably can't even listen to 'Not Pretty Enough' by Kasey Chambers again either…
Brooke Hunter

Release Date: November 4th, 2010

From Screenplay to Production:
Sean Byrne's motto while filming his directorial debut, The Loved Ones, was, "If you don't care then you don't scare." By reminding himself this way to imbue the characters with depth, desires and unconscious needs, he's created a unique horror movie - one where he delivers all the elements of the genre (and more) while at the same time providing the audience with a satisfying emotional story.

The script had Producer Mark Lazarus hooked from the first moment he laid eyes on it. "I had this doctor's appointment for an old people's thing I had (I am still young and virile, this was just a fluke, an anomaly, a hole in the time space continuum, a freak event that such a thing might strike me… anyway, it wasn't that serious). I grabbed the latest script sent by my agent buddy Anthony Blair at Cameron's Management and I started to read it in the waiting room. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. My turn with the doctor came and I looked up and all the octogenarians were staring at me, looking a little scared. Apparently I had been muttering expletives out loud while I was reading. When I got back to my office, I finished the last few pages, put the script down, picked up the phone and optioned the script."

Mark Lazarus describes his delight when Sean Byrne, a hungry filmmaker bred in darkest Tasmania and fed on a diet of horror movies from an early age, agreed to work with him on the picture. "He had written a corker and I wanted to be part of it. Praise to the movie gods, he letme. ... the script was so good... I was a hundred percent sure I'd get the sucker up in a heartbeat. Horror was hot and I had the best horror script I'd ever read in my hands." Despite his belief in the quality of the script however, it took another four years to finally finance the film. The first people to come on board the project were the film's Australian distributors, Madman Entertainment. Mark Lazarus got the message that they had agreed to distribute the picture while staying at his parents'house in Maryland, USA and that was the beginning of the rollercoaster ride. Madman's attachment allowed Mark Lazarus to apply to the Film Finance Corporation, Australia's national film funding body that also gave the film its conditional approval. Other investors started to come on board after that: The Melbourne International Film Festival's Premiere Fund, Film Victoria, Darclight Films and finally Omnilab Media came on as co-producers and investors to make the film a reality.

The Loved Ones was produced by Ambience Entertainment (an Omnilab subsidiary) and Mark Lazarus Pictures. Ambience Entertainment's, producer on the project, Michael Boughen tells of reading the script for the first time and explains why the decision was made to become involved in the project "The Loved Ones was by far the best horror script I had read in very long time. Writer and Director Sean Byrnes vision for film was exactly what I saw on the page and I personally felt in sync with his vision for the film."

Mark Lazarus describes the pleasure he experienced upon finally being delivered the news that their project had the financial backing to go ahead: "When they tell you that you have the money, there is a microsecond of pure ecstasy. It hits you in your major chakras (even the unmentionable ones) and travels outwards to ends of your hair and it feels really, really, really good...The bliss is quickly replaced, however, by the terrifying realisation of the enormous amount of work you will have to do to complete this enterprise on time, on budget and without shaming yourself: because making a movie is hard - and making a good movie is even harder."

It does help however if you can pull together an amazing team to work on it. Sean Byrne, Mark Lazarus and Michael Boughen headed a mostly young and all talented crew which included Editor Andy Canny, Director of Photography Simon Chapman and prosthetic make-up artist Justin Dix and his Wicked of Oz crew. As testament to the strength of the script, Mark Lazarus goes on to explain that "despite saying he'd NEVER do another horror movie after Wolf Creek and Rogue, Sean Byrne's script brought Robert Webb on. He loved it. We already had Ann Folland as our line producer and Anousha Zarkesh started casting. She turned over every rock. We got the best cast in the world. Sean's script and his shorts spoke for themselves - people wanted to work with this guy."

Cast Really, Really Good Actors
When questioned about his choice of actors Sean Byrne enthuses, "I basically picked really, really good actors that understood the craft, had a real heartbeat and who could understand the characters intellectually."
"If you can get that right as a director then that's 80-90% of your work done right there... Pick the right people and they come up with their own ideas..."

Those simply expecting a perv-fest trotting out the traditional B-grade Scream Queens stand warned: these guys can actually act! Sean Byrne has pulled together a cast that has real depth and quality, and they're also easy on the eyes...

"I think we've got a really good looking cast but they're not... it's not plastic". By 'casting up' with mature actors playing kids, Sean Byrne manages to extract an added dimension from the performances in thefilm. The archetypes are all represented here. There's the rebel, the stoner, the girl next door, the goth and the wallflower.

"I wanted to make sure we covered a lot of personalities so there would be a good chance different personalities in the audience could see themselves on screen."

The protagonist, Brent, is a Kurt Cobain-like hero who wears a razorblade necklace as a symbol of his suffering. Physical pain gives him an escape from the inner turmoil caused by guilt over his father's death. As he endures the macabre celebration that Lola and her Daddy have in store for him however, he realises that his desire to live far outweighs his destructive desires and ironically, it is his ability to keep taking physical torment that ultimately sets him free. Sean Byrne describes how the character of Brent first appeared to him as a single image of a bloodied teenager in a tuxedo tied to a chair in the middle of a balloon-littered floor. After the image came to him, Sean Byrne started to ask: "who is this kid, how did he get there? And if he's going to be our hero, how does he survive? What does his makeup have to be like? How can he go through this hell and be the only guy who can make it out?"

Xavier Samuel who plays Brent in the film laughs as he recalls his first reading of the script. "...I flicked through looking for my slabs of dialogue, the monologues that I was going to deliver and it was just (he mimes flicking through pages) scream... next 15 pages, scream, scream..."

Despite the lack of traditional dialogue however, he does an impressive job as the predominantly silent protagonist. "...The majority of the film I spend tied to a chair having bleach injected into my vocal chords so I can't talk... it's been challenging in that sense because the performance is forced to be quite internal..."

When questioned about his pain threshold for the different ordeals that his character endures, Xavier Samuel clarifies the non-traditional rehearsal techniques required to prepare for the role, which was more or less just "screaming in the living room" to perfect the right pitch for any given moment.

"It's something that you can only explore properly when the camera is turning over and you're doing it, a lot of it is unexplored terrain in terms of the pain threshold and the emotion..." Given the limited dialogue, much of the development of Xavier Samuel's character takes place through the unspoken. "You have to invent your own dialogue in a way... there are lines to learn, they're just never spoken."

Sean Byrne is quick to praise him for his performance in a difficult role. "He's this kid, he's basically nailed to a chair for sixty percent of the film and he has to have an arc there... He did it beautifully, it's like waking to a vivid nightmare, everything would be so surreal and then it's trying to adjust to the madness around you... all great heroes are at their clear thinking best when the pressure is on, so he was basically stuck in the one spot but he had to map out his trajectory as clearly as if this was a dialogue-heavy drama." As a testament to his skills as an actor, Xavier Samuel draws the audience into his character's shock, fear, disorientation, defiance, courage and broken spirit almost without a single word. Brent's interactions with Lola, or Princess as she is affectionately called by her father, are all the more interesting for the lack of dialogue between them. He has to negotiate the situation and exhibit a range of emotional reactions through the exchange of subtle glances and pointed looks between himself and his captors.

For her part, Princess delights in the game of cat and mouse that she and Daddy are playing in their dining room. Robin McLeavy (who plays Princess) seems to relish the fun that her character has by treating Brent as a toy rather than another human being. Sean Byrne explains, "She has so much fun with her character and she walks a really daring kind of tightrope because she gives us all those moments that you want to have in a movie, but it's also a really honest and damaged and quite sad portrayal of a girl who in some weird way has never grown out of that magic and fantasy stage of childhood that someday her prince will come…"

To prepare for her role, Robin McLeavy researched the psychological condition in the back story to her character but was also careful not to get overly influenced by it… In discussing the emotional makeup of her character, she says: "...Lola enjoys this evening that she has with Brent, so I wanted to enjoy that as well. I had a really good time once I'd done all that research then abstracted it if you like, so it became more like a dream. The dinner party was like a dream evening rather than a torture session..."

The use of a female villain is a delightful surprise and serves a key function in broadening the audience for the film. Horror villains are traditionally male (with some wonderful exceptions) but the injection ofLola's female energy and the film's dramatic and life affirming elements push the film out of the slasher horror category into a small group of memorable and distinctive horror films that transcend the genre's usual limitations.

From an outsiders' point of view Princess and Daddy (played superbly by perennial bad guy John Brumpton) are simply a loving and supportive family. When questioned about the casting ofJohn Brumpton as the bad guy, Sean Byrne explains: "I think he's incredibly charismatic, you've got absolutely no idea what's going on in his head and maybe that's why John Brumpton is a villain, he's got these crazy eyes and there's something naturally dangerous about him but he was also brave enough and such a strong actor to be really contained and I think that's where the horror comes from."

Xavier Samuel on John Brumpton: he is "just the loveliest guy you could meet, I don't know why he gets all the bad guy roles all the time. I guess because he's got a crazy look in his eye. He's also really kind and maybe its because he appears like a nice guy and he's all bad underneath. (Actually) I don't really know him that well, maybe he is a psycho..."

In describing his character, John Brumpton explains, "Daddy is a serial killer, it doesn't matter who. What he likes to experience is the spirit in the moment that it leaves the body... I was reading a lot about serial killers and I watched quite a few films guided by... what films the director wanted me to see beforehand. It's not easy work and... the last two days of the really heavy stuff [during the shoot] I was waking up with nightmares… I never really remember my dreams, but these ones were so horrific it started to disturb me."

The blackly comic manner in which the power drilling scene is played out serves a twofold purpose. The jet black humour not only relieves the tension, but also ensures that the audience is able to relate on a personal level to the horror. Princess is "... just a normal girl, it's just the way that she responds that makes her different."

Pretty in Pink...
The teenage world depicted here owes more to the glossy, colourful world of John Hughes movies than it does to the stark and raw naturalism favoured by Larry Clark. The kids in Sean Byrne's film live in a world of hotted up cars, school proms and mirror balls. Everything is ultra-hip and stylised.

"I think kids almost want to see themselves on the screen as if they're watching a Tarantino film."

The intentionally misleading glossiness and celebration of teenage life in the opening sequences are a sharp, beautiful contrast to the darkness that envelops Brent as he struggles to survive. It also lulls the audience into a false sense of security before they find themselves immersed in the film's nail-biting horror.

Art director Robert Webb and cinematographer Simon Chapman worked on the design of the film to create a fine balance between realism and playfulness to correlate with the director's vision. Describing it as "disco or glam horror," Sean Byrne explains that his aim was to "... make it a real party for the eyes and give it life, and hopefully it would hurt more when we stripped it away from the characters."

"I wanted it to feel like it could be a slick Bruckheimer film to start with, and then we kind of creep up on the audience and drop a tab of acid in their jumbo coke... so it all starts to go completely off the rails..."

As Sean Byrne puts it, "We didn't want to do the muted colours, the grimy dirt under the nails kind of horror thing because I felt like it had been done before and it's been done really well... I wanted this to be different." The challenge for the film was to achieve the right balance between horror and black comedy.

As John Brumpton explains, "You've got to be able to play it straight, because the humour is in the situation and the clothing and the way they look and the bizarreness of this girl in the pink dress. I think you've got to be a really good actor to be able to play the material."

Where the Mundane and the Extreme meet up…
The film places a strong emphasis on the emotional connection made between people who live in a small country town. Sean Byrne uses this backdrop to lull the audience into a false sense of security. He plays on the fact that "...there's something about small country towns, there is a trusting nature to them, people leave their doors open and unlocked." The farmhouse kitchen/dining room in which an important segment of the plot takes place was designed as a set to ensure consistency of sound in the filming as well as save on travel time in an extremely tight shooting schedule. While the set is designed to be authentic and "normal," it's still eye-popping and macabre in its detail to reflect the characters who live there.

When atrocities committed by tormentors such as the now infamous Jeffrey Dahmer and Joesph Fritzl come to light, the most common comments by neighbours are always "but he seemed like such a quiet, harmless man" or "he mostly kept to himself." So what makes these people tick?

American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer picked up his victims at a nightclub, invited them home and drugged their coffee to knock them out. While they were unconscious he bored holes in their skulls and then injected hydrochloric acid or boiling water into their frontal lobes with a syringe. Joseph Fritzl kept his daughter, whom he had been raping since the age of 11, locked up inside the basement of his house. Over the course of 24 years he physically assaulted, sexually abused and raped her while she was held captive from the outside world. He fathered 7 children with her, 3 of whom had never seen the light of day until the story broke.

"We've taken a bit of dramatic license, it's a horror film but it actually happened, this is a human horror, it isn't zombies rising from the grave," says Sean Byrne.

Having extensively researched the background of these real life monsters, Sean Byrne became fascinated by how faint the line was between our perceived normality and their tendency towards unnatural behaviour. "These are people that are disconnected and feel isolated and lonely and they slip through the cracks... in many ways they're not that much different to most of us..." That is what makes the actions of these tormentors all the more chilling.

One of Sean Byrne's underlying aims as a writer / director was to emphasise the point that the real world is much scarier than the land of zombies and demons. "The more we can relate to the horror, then the scarier it becomes because we're not one step removed from it." The juxtaposition of the mundane and the extreme takes terror to another level by 'normalising' evil. The fact that Princess and Daddy are able to sit around the kitchen table and carry on a regular conversation while there is someone tied to a chair with a hole in their head sitting across from them highlights how scary these psychopaths are. The suffering of others gives them pleasure.

Refusing to play the Victim...
"I started doing a lot of reading about how victims cope or don't cope with being abducted and tortured, and bizarrely it's actually when the victim refuses to play the victim that they're most successful," explains Sean Byrne. "It's a real tug of war between Brent and his tormentors and I wanted that to feel really natural - it's like a torture tennis match."

Seam Byrne describes the nature of serial killers "there's a sort of deadness inside and there's a struggle to relate or to be thrilled by anything that humans are naturally thrilled by, so their behaviour becomes much more extreme and aberrant... they abduct and they torture and have front row seats to what you could say is the greatest drama on earth. Its life and death and that's what they want."

The incredible intimacy afforded by such actions is what seems to spur them on, because they are aroused by the helplessness and complete dependency of another human being upon them.Despite the references to real life horrors however, the film manages to keep its tongue-in-cheek irreverence intact by not becoming too bogged down in the psychological implications of exploring torture as its main subject matter. It never loses track of the fact that it is first and foremost a a popcorn-munching Saturday night date flick and that its aim is to entertain. As Sean Byrne puts it, "it is a multiplex film; it's a movie with a capital M, its fun as well."

It is hard not to respect a writer / director who sums up his guiding principle on making films by stating, "the greatest sin a filmmaker can commit is not to entertain their audience."

Background Music to Accompany the Horror...
The strength of the script even managed to bring legendary techno music guru Ollie Olsen out of soundtrack retirement. Olsen was in a band called MAX Q with Michael Hutchence, and is not only a great composer but also a real fan of the horror genre. On meeting Ollie Olsen for the first time, Sean Byrne explains: "we met and had exactly the same taste in films and his DVD library was really similar to mine... he had a real love of horror in terms of Lynch and Cronenburg and... a great collection of Japanese horror, so I thought well this guy is not going to just do the traditional kind of horror score, he's going to do something that is far more interesting and demented but still really disciplined."

The movie has terrific songs in it as well. The two signature character pieces "Lonesome Loser" by Little River Band and "Not Pretty Enough" by Kasey Chambers will be rattling around in your head for days afterwards. This is testament to the chord which is struck by Sean Byrne and Ollie Olsen and music supervisor Craig Kamber in finding the perfect soundtrack. Once you see the movie you will understand why... Sean Byrne was committed to using the soundtrack to not only elaborate upon the story and inform character, but also to add a touch of black humour to proceedings.

Let's do Special Effects like its 1985...
In an age when digital rules, Sean Byrne had an old-school vision for his film which meant that traditional horror movie devices such as latex bodies and rubber heads were utilised in an effort to do as little as possible digitally. Mark Lazarus describes the eerie memory of watching as the actors became subject to the will of the special effects crew. "Watching latex heads being made of Xavier Samuel and Robin McLeavy was slightly scary... the actors have to be encased in latex with tiny breathing holes... for enough time to make it more than a little claustrophobic. And the prosthetic work got weirder, too… dead possums, broken bones, smashed open heads, necks to be stabbed that pumped blood, heads to be perforated with sweet bone smoke and blood effects. We wanted to do as little as possible digitally. Sean Byrne started saying we were going to make this movie like it was 1985..."

Robin McLeavy's description of her experience in sitting for the creation of the latex heads sounds almost as bad as some of the terrifying scenes enacted in the film. "I went to Wicked of Oz (the studio) to get my cast done, it took a few hours but I had my head entombed in this kind of gunk for about 20 minutes and I had my mouth stuffed with the gunk and I had two straws sticking out of my nose so I could breathe and then they were wrapping this stuff around my head and it was getting heavier and heavier and it was literally like being buried alive."

Having said that, she seems to have adjusted quite quickly to the experience - much like she did to the torturous ordeals she acts out in the film: "At first I kind of panicked... (but)... after a while I breathed really deeply and relaxed and it was quite relaxing I nearly fell asleep by the end." Her character also has a prosthetic body double, and she explains how she used the discomfort of that for her preparation for her role: "there was a time when I was half nude leaning on this bench, like this (she gestures) with kind of glug all over me and 4 guys and a girl rubbing it all over me and it started to weigh a ton and I was shaking... that was an experience in itself to draw on." She cheekily goes on to say that "John can't look at his prosthetic body double, he gets really freaked out but I made good friends with my body double."

Always quick to complement the strength of his crew, Sean Byrne praises the work of Justin Dix and the Wicked of Oz studio who did a phenomenal job in getting the special effects completed in time and keeping the tight shooting schedule on track: "...prosthetics are really time consuming and we had to shoot so quickly. When I look at the film I think wow - it just looks great." Same with Jacob who was doing make up... (the two departments)... have to collaborate the same way as the director collaborates with an actor."

Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who grew up on a diet of horror, Sean Byrne has a real taste for all the gory details of the genre: "I love the colour of the blood, I have a real... (abhorrence)... in horror films if the blood is too tomato saucy, it has to be really beautiful and deep claret…it's a part of the bad guys' artwork in a way so you want it to be a nice inviting colour." Justin shares his enthusiasm: "I've always said to everyone, you can never go too dark, you can only go too light, too light always looks fake, too dark just looks disgusting on film. Everyone does have their own secret recipe, we've got our own secret recipe as well but I'm not telling you what it is... one thing about making horror movies, you've constantly got red stained hands."

The job of applying the blood onto the actors was time consuming, with Robin McLeavy explaining that it often took up to an hour for the make up artists to get her ready for her blood-drenched scenes. However it also gave her an appreciation for the intense dedication involved in the process: 'The first time you see the make up on it looks quite horrifying but then day after day it becomes this work of art because its been recreated in exactly the same way, or with a slight adjustment. So there's a lot of artistry involved in creating that and that's part of the reason that I've started to appreciate horror..."

Horror Audience - A Hardcore Bunch...
When questioned as to what he hopes that audiences will take away after having viewed the film, Sean Byrne says: "I hope they feel like they've seen something fresh in the genre. I hope they laugh and they scream and they cover their eyes (laughs) and they walk out feeling good and horror fans are such a hardcore bunch."

"Audiences don't get credit for how smart they are. They're so smart they can (not only) second guess the film makers most of the time, but I think they can third guess and fourth guess... my motto was... lets tenth guess them and take them into this really, really crazy place, but try and do it with really logical building blocks."

His hope is that audiences will "feel like they've gone on a fun vivid sexy pop horror roller coaster and... recognise that we did the absolute best we could to bend the genre and give them something new."