The Loved Ones (2009)

I’ve been spoiled rotten with movie screenings this past week. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday with Guillermo Del Toro, chatting about Alfred Hitchcock who turns out to be a more multifaceted storyteller than I had hitherto given him credit for. As if that wasn’t enough, Rue Morgue screened The Loved Ones at Cinemacabre on Thursday night, and viewers did not leave disappointed.

I had seen it before. I enjoyed it, but following my first viewing I didn’t recall much beyond the basic plot: Lola wants to go to the Prom with Brent, but Brent wants to go with Holly. Lola and her dad turn out to be sadistic incestuous psychos who have been collecting Lola’s crushes for some time, and Brent has just unknowingly bought himself a ticket to their special kind of party. The suspense is pitch-perfect, the gore is relentless and visually, the movie is a gaudy glittering mirrorball, pitting bright pink taffeta against a blood-spattered dinnertable. It was satifying enough on that basis alone, but my second viewing of it last night revealed it to be much more.

The title should give it away. In the backdrop of the Lola-Brent conflict lies several families torn apart by tragedy: Brent’s father was killed in an accident in which Brent was driving, and his relationship with his mother is so miserably strained that he regularly escapes his pain through drug use and self-injury. Lola lives with her doting father and her brain-dead mother. Brent’s friend Jamie takes gothy bad-girl Mia to the Prom, and Mia has her own methods to deal with the pain of her missing brother. Even Holly, Brent’s girlfriend is unable to reach her mother when she needs her. These four fractured families each have their own way of coping with their loss, and their stories converge on one bloody Prom night.

Brent’s coping mechanism of choice is self-destructive: he flirts with death, carrying a razorblade in case the urge to cut strikes and intentionally dangling off the edge of a cliff  in a moment of frantic fatalism. Importantly, he is afraid and struggles to safetywhen he loses his grip, and when he is held captive by Lola and her daddy it is his raw will to survive that saves him. Dangling from the precipice he thought only his own relief but when he is faced with Lola’s torment, he thinks of his father, his mother and Holly. Thus, while Lola ruined Brent’s Prom (as well as his remarkably pretty face) she also inadvertently gave him the ability to see past his pain at what he has to live for.

In the end, the story comes full circle and we understand that Lola’s twisted home situation has affected everyone else’s. As such, the movie isn’t about Lola and Brett so much as their entanglement with their respective loved ones, and the film makes for a unique yet familiar view of the dangers of the abbreviated family unit, harkening to similar familial themes in Carrie or Psycho.

People often ask one another if they’re close with their family. The Loved Ones makes you wonder if you’re closer than you think.

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