The Loved Ones (2009)

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Director: Sean Byrne

Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine

And you thought your prom night was bad

Australia certainly seems a scary place. Wolf Creek and Snowtown show that it’s a place teeming with murderous male psychopaths and now The Loved Ones has reared its pretty little head, giving birth to the most terrifying Sheila ever put on film. Who on Earth would want to do a gap year over there? In all fairness though, the Aussie’s really do knock it out of the park when it comes to horror films and The Loved Ones is no exception. Think Carrie meets Misery with a bit of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in and you have The Loved Ones.

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It’s a beautifully made film with its loud, throbbing soundtrack and solid direction. It opens in a similar way to another superior Aussie horror, The Babadook with a horrific car crash resulting in the death of a father. The film takes a suitably melancholic mood with our hero Brent being understandably depressed by his father’s passing. In a fleeting moment he makes the worst decision of his life by politely declining mousy Lola’s offer of going to the prom with her. When I was at school, the prom was called an Immac because it was a silly Catholic school who liked to name everything after religious events. I’m sure there were some immaculate conceptions on those days though!

If you’re one of these types who get bored easily by long build-ups (think Wolf Creek) the you’ll love The Loved Ones. It runs at an economical 80 minutes and doesn’t waste much time delving into the action. Within 15 minutes, Brent is kidnapped and tied to a chair with an eerie disco ball floating above. This is when the horror really gets going.

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A lot of the film relies on the sensation performance by Robin McLeavy as Lola. The film is basically a one woman show and rests on her shoulders. Unfortunately for Twilight fans, Xavier isn’t given a lot to do apart from scream, but I can’t imagine Twilight fans liking this one very much. The only time you get to see Xavier with his boobs out is when Lola’s carving her initials into it with a knife. Sorry girls, but there really isn’t a lot to titillate you here, unless you’re into that sort of thing… In which case, get help.

The Loved Ones isn’t one of those pansy horror films which shy away from violence and taboos. In fact the film goes down some terribly dark avenues involving incest and cannibalism, but it’s not done in a cheap or exploitative way. All of the shocking stuff is done to help the story along or add character development rather than just turn the audience’s stomach. There’s a particularly nasty scene involving a drill which will stay with you!

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Alongside Brent’s torture we get the Misery-esque policeman on the hunt for the missing Brent and an odd subplot which involves Brent’s friend going to the dance with an awkward goth girl. Whilst it’s a humorous little side story, it does little to serve the main plot. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to add a little light to the film, but the sublimely disturbed character of Lola is darkly comic enough to stop the film from getting too heavy.

Whilst it’s definitely a solid little horror film, I can’t help but feel like it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. I think the finale feels a little rushed and could’ve easily been extended to be more thrilling like something from Frontiers. It also didn’t feel tragic enough. I would’ve liked to have had a final punch to the gut, but instead it ends rather prematurely and a little too neatly for me. However, wishing a film was longer is never a bad thing. If you’re into your gory psycho horror with added female bite then you can’t go wrong with The Loved Ones. Just remember that if a loopy Aussie lass asks you to the prom, go with her. Not that I’d turn anyone with a pulse down.

eight-out-of-ten

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller

Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nicholas Hoult

It’s nice to see that George Miller has mellowed in his old age

Slow, uneventful, boring, and subtle. These are some of the words you’d never hear from any sane person describing Mad Max 4. Before I dig deeper I should probably let you know that I’m a twenty year-old man who only recently watched the original Mad Max trilogy, so I don’t have any nostalgia attached to them. The first Mad Max film is genuinely considered mediocre by most people apart from proud Aussies, and my opinion was pretty much the same. It didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression. I was under the impression that it was some sort of hardcore revenge movie, but the revenge part only happened in the final underwhelming twenty minutes. The rest of the film was spent titting about in a underdeveloped post-apocalyptic Australia.

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The Road Warrior, however, is generally considered as one of the greatest action movies of all time. I was expecting a full-on action fest (much like Fury Road) but unfortunately what I got was a ponderous seventy minutes involving Max titting about with a colony of people protecting fuel before ending with a spectacular car chase. I was quite disappointed and can name several older action films that are far better than The Road Warrior (Terminator 2 and Hard Boiled to name two). Beyond Thunderdome is generally considered as the worst of the lot but to my pleasant surprise I actually enjoyed this the most out of the trilogy! It might have something to do with me being a massive Tina Turner fan, but I thought there was more action and better characters than the other two films.

After being largely underwhelmed by the Mad Max trilogy, I had my expectations for Fury Road lowered. Pretty much every review I’ve read has been astonishingly glowing with many hailing it as one of the best action films of all time, but didn’t they say that about The Road Warrior? Fury Road is directed by the same George Miller, a man now in his seventies who hasn’t directed an action film since Beyond Thunderdome and whose recent credits include Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, Mad Max 4 is bound to be pretty weak, right? Wrong.

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Believe the hype. Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible feat. I have no idea how George Miller managed to pull out something so utterly spectacular out of his bag. Fury Road is the best action film I’ve seen since The Raid and has some of the best stunt work since The Dark Knight Rises. In my opinion it leaves the original Mad Max trilogy lying face down in the dust. Fury Road is the great big throbbing war machine whilst the original trilogy is more like some old rusty bicycle. The first ten minutes of Fury Road is far better than anything from Mad Max 1-3 and the entire two hour film definitely contains far more action than the first three films put together.

It opens with an epic monologue from our new Max, Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson never did anything for me as Max. In fact, the character of Max never did much for me. I much prefer Tom Hardy as Max. His accent may be as muddled as Stu’s tan in Mrs. Doubtfire but I think he has much more of a presence than Mel Gibson ever did. His famous interceptor is destroyed within the first five minutes which is obviously symbolic. Just like James Bond getting shot in the opening of Skyfall and a TV exploding in the opening of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the interceptor getting totalled represents a new era of Mad Max. George Miller has completely cut the ties from the original films and quite rightly so!

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I mentioned before that the opening ten minutes of Fury Road is better than anything from the original trilogy and it really is! We get thrown into a huge world and feel fully immersed. The imagery is impressive and epic. It feels like something from Lord of the Rings with some powerful masked weirdo sitting on a giant cliff and spilling gallons of water to his loyal pale-painted followers. The villain in Fury Road is basically Aunty Entity on acid and curiously similar to Tom Hardy’s very own Bane. He’s a brilliantly memorable villain who has his very own breast milk farm and an army of seriously sexy wives.

It occurred to me about three quarters of a way through the film that I actually cared about the characters on the screen, which I’ve never felt before during a Mad Max film (apart from Tina of course). The action still comes first, but there’s still some character development to keep you interested in the, admittedly thin plot. Some have complained that Charlize Theron’s Furiosa character takes over from Max but that didn’t bother me at all. I love strong female characters and Furiosa is definitely that! I cared about the clan of oddballs and their goal. I cared enough, anyway, to make me care about who is actually in the action.

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Talking of action. Fury Road’s action sequences are every bit as amazing as you’ve heard. It’s a total intense onslaught of revving action from start to finish. Within the first thirty minutes, we’re plunged into a fiery sandstorm with a furious army of vehicles in hot pursuit. I sat there completely mesmerised by what I was watching. There’s a jarring moment shortly afterwards where Max slowly awakes from a pile of sand and the slowness of the scene is so bloody jarring! At least ninety minutes of Fury Road is just pure full-throttle action. It’s amazingly executed with so little CGI and jaw-dropping stunt work. The final chase sequence is completely exhausting.

Fury Road is eye popping. I felt like Toe Cutter before he collides into a lorry in Mad Max 1 through most of it. Let’s just hope that the sequel will be like The Raid 2. It could easily get better by putting as much focus on character development and plot as well as the action. The Raid 2 did exactly that and produced one of the best films of the twenty first century. As it stands though, Fury Road is a gigantic, towering achievement. You can almost feel the testosterone sweating off the screen. The Fast and Furious franchise can well and truly piss off because this kind of action belongs to the mad.

nine-out-of-ten