THe LOVED ONES is the new Australian horror film that has hit the screens across the country. The movie is directed with talent and expertise by Sean Byrne. It has a definite Australian feel and strong performances by the leads Xavier Samuel and Robin McLeavy. The story is set in a small Victorian country town. When Brent (Samuel) turns down his classmate Lola’s (McLeavy) invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge. What follows is a thrill ride with some strong performances and some grotesquely bloody scenes. Our full review will be up ASAP.
AccessReel went along to a Talking Pictures event for THE LOVED ONES held at the Luna Cinemas in Leederville. The film’s director Sean Byrne and its star Robin McLeavy took questions about the film after a screening. The session was ably run by Ben O’Shea of The West Australian newspaper. The first questions came from him and later members of the audience asked their own questions. It should be noted that while Robin tended to refer to her character by her name Lola Stone, Sean called her Princess, but they are speaking about the same character.
And just in case you doubt that some of this movie was hard to watch, a man in the audience fainted at one point. When Ben O’Shea spoke to him later he declared he was going bush for a couple a weeks.
BEN: Firstly, thank you for forever changing how I hear Kasey Chambers Not Pretty Enough. Why that song, Sean?
SEAN: I just thought it was apt. I wanted to make a hero who listened to heavy metal, the devil’s music and a villain who listened to sugar-sweet top of the pops – I figured Princess probably isn’t out scouring through record store shelves, so she’ll hear a big hit on the radio and become quite obsessed with it.
BEN: Robin, do you have an affinity for that song now?
ROBIN: It’s really a song about a girl wanting validation from a boy – so Kasey and Lola have something in common, it would seem.
BEN: How long has this project been in the works?
SEAN: I finished the first draft when the first SAW movie came out, so it’s been a six or seven year labour of love.
BEN: And why this kind of story, this genre?
SEAN: Horror sells. I’d written a couple of other scripts that were too offbeat to get off the ground and so many of my favourite filmmakers like Spielberg, Coppola, Peter Jackson, started off with a horror. And there are so many bad horror films out there that I thought if I do a half decent job it will stand out. (laughs)
BEN: Is it daunting making a film knowing hard-core horror fans will be watching and judging?
SEAN: Hardcore horror fans are really merciless (laughs). We had a North American Premiere at Toronto and fortunately they really liked the film because I wasn’t sure we’d get out alive if they didnt (laughs). Horror fans are incredibly passionate – I’m glad they exist or I wouldn’t have a career.
BEN: It’s pretty full on movie – so what’s going on in your head?
SEAN: I’m a total puppy dog (laughs) I started off with an image of our hero. It was kid who was tied to a chair in the middle of all these balloon, he’s in a tuxedo and I thought – who is this kid, how did he get here, how’s he going to get out and more importantly, who’s done this to him? So I started researching sociopaths like Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. It was then about researching the world so I could do it with some authenticity.
BEN: What were you looking for when you were casting?
SEAN: I was looking for actors who were going to care about the material I had a saying in pre production – “If you don’t care, you don’t scare”. Treat the material with respect and don’t judge it – just play the moment. The actors that came in, elevated the material made me look better and gave me goosebumps. It’s a no –brainer. Robin walked in and instantly filled Princesses shoes, intimidated me and I thought – “Well this is Princess”. And breathed a huge sigh of relief.
BEN: Was it an easy choice for you to take this role?
ROBIN: Horror isn’t my genre at all and I am a huge wimp when it comes to hottor So when I read the script I was so excited that someone had finally written a role for a lead female actress in a horror film who wasnl;t the half-naked screaming victim with their boobs out being chased by the guy with a knife. I was going to be the guy with as knife so that instantly appealrd to me. Just the oipportunity to play someone so psychologically unhinged and crazy is just delicious – it’s irresistible.
BEN: Robin what were the key points in creating Lola Stone?
ROBIN: Sean gave me the Jeffrey Dahmer research he’d done and I freaked out, kind of threw it on the floor, and then I looked at a book called The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks. He’s a neuro-psychologist and he describes his patients symptoms in a beautiful, poetic way. He describes the sensoric sensations they have when they’re at the verge of an episode and that was kind of a beautiful inpoint for me.
AUDIENCE: How did you find talking to Xavier and Sean on set when you were getting into that psychotic and damaged zone?
ROBIN: It was really open and I avoided ‘method’ at all costs because I already lean a bit that way in my subconscious and I’m terrified of going too deep. But I still developed a twitch and was really manic. Sean was terrified of me on set and he created this monster, so that’s kind of ironic. While a scene was being set up we’d have a quick chat and we had a really fluid dialogue about what we both wanted. We’re both research maniacs so we were really prepared. We’d have a little banter and just go for it.
AUDIENCE: Were the farmhouse scenes was that filmed in one go?
SEAN: Yeah that was filmed in one block. It was an incredibly quick shoot – 27 days – and the only way to get through it was to shoot the heart of the film, the farmhouse interiors, on a set. Everyone can get in a rhythm, weather doesn’t affect shooting. We kind of built our own mad dollhouse (laughs)
AUDIENCE: Can you tell me where it was shot?
SEAN: The studio stuff was shot in Yarraville, the country town in Kyneton and Kyneton quarry and the farmhouse exterior is Mount Cottrell which is near Geelong.
BEN: After all the terrible things Lola does, why do I still find myself liking her a bit?
ROBIN: I hope that people find a little window of sympathy for Lola in that she’s a very lonely and misunderstood lost little girl and her loneliness manifests in a really vicious way. That’s the only vocabulary she has for being intimate with people.
AUDIENCE: Robin what was your favourite part of the film?
ROBIN: I loved doing all the fight sequences, the scenes with Xave’ in the kitchen – all that fight stuff was really exciting. The stuff in the car with Victoria. But I especially love the first dinner scene because that moment is so tense – it’s wonderful.
SEAN: Mine was the night shot with Kingswood outside the chicken shop because it was the last shot and I knew I couldn’t get fired.
AUDIENCE: I really enjoyed the music that was composed for the film and the songs you chose – could you tell us a little about that?
SEAN: I didn’t want the film to have an overtly horror score –like Gregorian chants for instance, as much as I like THE OMEN, that’s already been done. Ollie Olsen, the composer is one of the founders of Noise music and as soon as I heard a sample of his darker stuff I thought, that’s the guy. I’m a huge Tarantino fan and the music in this film adds to the scene and relates to it. Everyone’s got a soundtrack to their lives and I wanted to make sure we picked bands that reflected that. Brent is disenfranchised kid so he’s into metal the music of the disenfranchised, his mate is a bit of a stoner so he’s into stoner rock. I was trying to make it shed light on the characters.
AUDIENCE: Do you think you’ll do more horror?
SEAN: Not exactly that type of horror again. I’m attached to a psychological horror film and I’m writing a home invasion thriller. I like comedy and spaghetti Westerns. I’d like to show my range and hopefully get another job.
AUDIENCE: Was it hard to get backing for your film?
SEAN: Yes it was, it took about four years, we almost had the film up on a number of occasions. Screen Australia nearly put money in two and a half years ago, they gave us the amber light basically, saying they liked it but didn’t think it was ready yet so I went away and made a short with a similar look and tone – black comedy and horror and that made things easier to get the money. That screened at Sundance which helped.
AUDIENCE: Did you use a lot improv(isation) on set?
ROBIN: Having a theatre background – doing Greek tragedies at drama school and that kind of heightened vengeful, kind of bloodlust that you tap into when you’re a freak at drama school. You know your boundaries – it’s exciting to push yourself into a kind of vulgar area (laughs).
AUDIENCE: There’s a Hollywood disease of remaking foreign horror films and ruining them. Are you afraid of this happening to your film? Or would you be honoured?
SEAN It depends how poor a I am. A couple of producers got in touch with the production company to say they were interested in the remake rights. One in particular said they thought it would better in America as a PG film and I was like: “No way”.
BEN: At what point does the gore go over the line and become gore-nography?
SEAN: I was trying to keep it all in balance but it’s a fine line. So much of what we showed was implied – it’s the audience’s imagination, so it’s not my problem it’s theirs.
BEN: Someone has described the movie as PRETTY IN PINK meets WOLF CREEK. And there’s a bit of MISERY thrown in there as well. What were your reference points?
SEAN: Structurally the film is closest to MISERY because they’re both claustrophobic horrors. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 because it’s demented and such a wild fun time.
BEN: Would you think of moving to Los Angeles?
ROBIN: I have a Los Angeles agent and they’ve already received some horror scripts, but that is my first and last horror role – the next thing I’m doing is with the Australian Chamber Orchestra so I’m coming nack with them to Perth in a couple of weeks – it’s based on a Tolstoy novella, a two-hander, it’s with the orchestra, so it’s something a little bit different, a little bit highbrow. (laughs).
BEN: Please thanks Sean Byrne and Robin McLeavy for their time!
The LOVED ONES is released nationally on Thursday June 4th.