I was expecting, thanks to its marketing, The Loved Ones to be a tongue-in-cheek horror movie, with a broad, comedic take on the prom night slasher film. I certainly hadn’t anticipated the gutpunch of an early scene where a girl drives alongside a dog, who, recently stabbed, pants futilely for air. It gets darker from there. Later scenes resemble a black comedy – strong emphasis on the “black” – but it’s a long way from “fun.”
The film should be experienced without any prior knowledge of the plot, as it’s at its best when uncovering the grisly particulars step by gruesome step.
There’s consistently excellent use of silence and ominous negative space; there’s limited violence, but when there is, it’s powerful and shocking – Loved Ones does more with a steak knife and hammer than most horror films can achieve with buckets of gore, thanks to the film’s confidence in leaving the gory details to your imagination.
The characters in this film feel like actual teenagers… not sure if it’s the Australian accents? Their bad skin? The deep unhappiness and bitterness? Paired with confident filmmaking, it ensures that a story that might seem silly on paper carries a realistic, unsettling heft on screen.