It’s tricky to successfully juggle conflicting tones in a film, but the effort can pay off. Shaun of the Dead, for instance, mixed horror and comedy extraordinarily well, with the funny bits making the scary parts all the more effective, and vice-versa. But it’s a delicate balance and bungling it is often disastrous.

Such is the case with The Loved Ones, an independent Australian film and the first feature from director Sean Byrne, which tries to mix scares and laughs to disappointing results. It doesn’t help that it’s unclear just how much of the movie is supposed to be humorous. For each obvious comedic beat, there’s a moment that may simply be trying too hard to horrify, producing unintentional laughs, instead of screams.

The film further blends genres by bringing the tropes of high school movies into the story, which revolves around an end-of-school dance. After Brent (Xavier Samuel) turns down an outcast girl’s (Robin McLeavy) invitation, she reveals a hidden psychotic side, having her father (John Brumpton) kidnap him. Brent finds himself a forced participant in a private mock prom, where the traditional dancing and crowning of king and queen are interspersed with bouts of torture.

Said torture, which involves forks, knives, and power drills, may rattle the average viewer, but probably won’t faze dedicated horror movie fans. This movie isn’t operating anywhere near a, say, Hostel amount of violence. The few genuine scares the film contains come from the personalities of the girl, “Princess,” and her “Daddy.” He’s a twisted parody of the proud father who will do anything for his little girl, while she is the sheltered social pariah turned up to twelve. McLeavy and Brumpton do the best work in the movie, completely selling these psychopaths’ sick yet loving relationship.

Nothing else in The Loved Ones comes close to approaching those two actors’ game. The main character is especially boring. He has a tragic back-story, involving his feeling responsible for the recent death of his father, but it isn’t enough to make him sympathetic. This is mainly because his angst manifests in such over-the-top ways, such as squeezing a razor blade while heavy metal blares, that it’s impossible to relate to him. None of the other characters in the film are interesting, or really even necessary, and every second spent with them is a bore. There is an entire subplot devoted to two of them that has barely any bearing on the story, and could easily have been cut without affecting anything else in the film.

Byrne has put together a film that looks nice, especially for its very low budget. The cinematography and gore effects are all done well, or at least competently. The soundtrack is memorable, drawing on an eclectic use of music that ranges from rock to pop to indie. However, the main song, Kasey Chambers’ “Not Pretty Enough,” is severely overused. The first time the pining lovey-doveyness of its lyrics ironically contrasts with the severe bodily harm at hand, it’s effective. The next three times, it isn’t.

As can easily happen with horror films, some troubling, unintended subtext arises. Since it’s dealing with teenage dynamics filtered through a horror prism, the villain of the piece is the loner girl. This film essentially validates every cruel assumption made about social pariahs, that they’re freaks who should be avoided. Byrne (probably) didn’t mean to send this message, but it’s there.

Despite a few good performances and some nicely done scenes of terror, The Loved Ones mostly flounders. Boring characters, useless plot threads, generally bland horror direction, and an ugly subtext pull the movie down. Like so many other unremarkable scary movies, it will probably make adequate viewing for any young couple wanting an excuse to clutch at each other. Otherwise, it’s eminently forgettable.