The Loved Ones ★★★★

It's got to be hard to craft a movie about love. Love is intangibly authentic, honest, and grounded, and requires a genuine voice to be related to an audience. This is a film very much about the degrees of love, from infatuations, through protective parentage, to the creepiest of one-way desperation - love isn't always romantic, after all. And to make the crafting all the more difficult, it's a horror film, one of the most difficult genres to engage the heart through.

Horror - and torture horror to be extra specific - is a genre built on detachment. It so typically presents completely disturbing scenarios and other-worldly levels of disgust and turmoil which spiral into surrealism as its situations get worse. We as an audience can be along for the ride, but rarely get a chance to engage with the films' ideas because they are so detached from reality. The Loved Ones completely shatters that archetype, and is all the more terrifying because of it.

The film presents both lead actors (victim and villain) in refreshing ways. The villain is not robotically menacing nor surgically precise - she's got a lot of problems, and all of them get in the way of her getting what she wants. Robin MacLeavy's role as Lola is incredibly captivating, and will leave a deep, lasting impression.

The storyline progresses with a few genuinely great reveals, but the biggest success of the film is that twists don't actually feel like twists: they are presented as clumsy, anticlimactic, and sometimes even completely inconsequential. Instead of following the 'default' horror sequence that goes something like build-build-scare-build-pause-finish, the film is not afraid to completely quash a buildup for the sake of grounding the story in startling realism. And while I found myself laughing at a few of these tension-breaking points, it never feels like comic relief.

Throughout the story we bounce back and forth to a parallel plot of two other young prom-goers with their own set of issues, and while you try to figure out how or if these two parallel plots will converge, you slowly realize how much you don't actually want them to. They serve to support and contrast each other in interesting ways and never become filler.

In short, it's one of the few great horror films I've seen in recent years, and I was amazed that it took 4 years since its release for it to even be on my radar. But I'm glad to have found it. The cinematography and sets will leave lasting visual impressions, and the performances will rock you to your core. The film presents itself as messy, awkward, clumsy, tense and heartbreaking – and that actually sounds a lot like love, to me.