|Last House on the Left, The (2009)|
|Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical|
|Written by Daniel Hirshleifer|
|Tuesday, 24 March 2009|
The Last House on the Left was Wes Craven’s 1972 debut feature. The film was itself based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, still my preferred telling of this particular tale. Craven’s film had flaws (poor acting and a terrible, incongruent score are the chief offenders), but it was buoyed by a dirty, gritty filmmaking style. Craven made the movie look like a documentary, shocking the audience with its frank brutality. The film, along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, kickstarted a new wave of 70’s horror. Darker, more realistic, and unrelenting in their approach, these films felt authentic, making the horror all the more immediate and real. This wasn’t Satan impregnating a woman or possessing a young girl. These were real people faced with real maniacs.
The 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left improves upon its predecessor in two ways: Better acting and better use of music. Other than that, it is exactly what is wrong with Hollywood today. The old flick was unflinching, grim, and daring. The new one is slick, produced, and staged. In the process, it loses all of its teeth. The basic premise hasn’t changed. Mari (Sara Paxton, best known for the one-two punch of Sleepover and Aquamarine) and her parents, John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter), go to their summer home for a vacation. Mari decides to visit her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac, Michael Cera’s love interest from Superbad). While hanging out, they meet Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who entices them back to their hotel room with the promises of premium-grade weed. While there, the trio are interrupted by Justin’s father, Krug (Garrett Dillahunt of Deadwood), Krug’s brother Francis (Aaron Paul), and girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome). This wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the fact that Krug and his gang are wanted for multiple murders, and the only thing they can do with the two girls is kill them. Actually, at first it seems like they aren’t going to kill them outright, taking the girls with them in the car as they try to navigate out of town. But Mari stages a daring escape that unfortunately for her and Paige only ends up wrecking the car. Afterwards, Krug kills Paige and rapes Mari. When Mari tries to escape again, Krug shoots her, and the group thinks she’s dead. They then trek to the closest house looking for succor and aid. This, of course, happens to be Mari’s house, and her parents take in the foursome, not knowing their secret. When Mari shows up again, her parents realize the truth and decide to take revenge.
The Last House on the Left is a classic revenge story. By the time Mari’s parents go after Krug and his group, the audience is meant to be firmly on their side. The killing is catharsis for the horrors that precede it. The main problem I have with this remake is that the horrors that precipitate the killings, while terrible, simply don’t go far enough. In the original, the killing and rape is utterly vicious and brutal. There’s no doubt in the audience’s mind that the criminals need to be taken down in the most sadistic way possible. Here, while the gang do some terrible things, I was left feeling apathetic. Perhaps the real culprit is the filmmaking style employed by director Dennis Iliadis. He makes the whole production feel so thoroughly smooth and polished that there’s no way for the raw nature of the acts to shine through. I’m sure women people will find the rape scene to be too much to bear, but I honestly felt like it was a lightweight compared to some of the graphic rape scenes I’ve seen in countless exploitation and horror films from the 70’s and 80’s.
The film picks up slightly once the parents go on their rampage, but not enough to overcome its own malaise. There is one fantastic scene where the parents first discover Mari, half-dead and raped, and realize exactly who did those things to her. After that, the revenge is as uninteresting and tired as the rest of the picture. And then there’s an utterly pointless post-script that really feels tacked on and gaudy. I’m not opposed to remakes, so long as they are well made and stand on their own. This remake of The Last House on the Left is neither.