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Last House on the Left, The (2009)

The Last House on the Left review!Reviewed by Andrew Kasch

Starring Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen, Sara Paxton, Joshua Cox

Directed by Dennis Iliadis


So it has come to this: The movie industry has become so terrified of original films that it’s turned to remaking remakes. Sure, Wes Craven’s original The Last House on the Left (a loose redux of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) may not be a sacred cow and definitely reflects the work of a first time filmmaker, but its raw power and grindhouse cult status make it a bizarre candidate for a Hollywood redo. Above all else, it was product of the times; a film that shook the status quo in an uneasy social climate.

But we live in very different times and after decades of clones, rip-offs and revenge-driven stories a new version of Last House seems a tad superfluous. The filmmakers have obviously taken great care to preserve the disturbing qualities of the original while trying to rise above the more exploitive elements – and there are times when they are quite successful – but there’s a very rote and overly familiar sense that clouds the entire project.

Retreading the same territory as before, the new Last House follows party-girl Mari (Sarah Paxton) and her pal Paige (Martha MacIsaac) who are abducted and tortured by escaped convict Krug (Garrett Dillahunt) and his gang of thugs in the middle of the woods. But when the gang accidentely takes refuge with Mari’s vengeful parents, they find themselves on the receiving end of the punishment. It goes without saying, but this version sticks far closer to Craven’s film (and a recent rip-off that shall not be named) than Craven did to The Virgin Spring, and no matter how good the execution gets, it’s still the same old song and dance.

The Last House on the Left review!There are many things wrong with the new Last House, but the acting and direction are not among them. On a stylistic level alone, director Dennis Iliadis does a damn fine job ratcheting up the suspense in several scenes and makes you wonder what he could do with a better project. While the film purposefully lacks the grit and realism of the original, Iliadis still gives it the feeling of a slick independent production and there’s no questioning the passion of cast and crew. The acting is strong across the board, the stand-out being Dillahunt who proves himself a menacing successor to David Hess. It’s just sad that these people don’t have more to work with.

This brings me to where the revisionist take on Last House ultimately fails. What really made the original stand out weren’t the graphic scenes, but the intimate character moments that hammered home the nature of violence. There’s a powerful moment in Craven’s film after the thugs have finished their humiliation, rape and torture of the two girls, when the thrill and excitement leaves them and they’re suddenly overcome with tremendous guilt, silently staring at each other with disgusted looks on their faces. We get that same moment at the end after the parents have exacted their revenge on the gang. There’s a real sense of loss in the original and it effectively shows the repercussions of violence on every day human beings.

The Last House on the Left review!The remake is unconcerned with such weighty ideas. The thugs are evil incarnate, the victims are completely innocent and we watch as they square off through a series of predictable hide-and-go-stalk set-pieces. While it’s unpleasant and disturbing to watch, the rape and violence that comprises the mid-section is largely rushed through (no doubt a relief to many) but we’re also given a series of fabricated “suspense” moments where the girls keep trying to escape and always seem to find themselves within an inch of salvation (a cop car, a steel mill, their house, etc) only to have Krug and company pull them away.

This is also the kind of film that blatantly shows off each character’s skill in the first act (Mari is a champion swimmer, Dad is the family doctor, etc) which conveniently comes into play when they’re stuck in this horrible situation. It’s typical Hollywood manipulation and the script always takes the easy way out – in the end, the victims are just, the wicked are punished and nothing has really been sacrificed in the process. If anything, this new Last House epitomizes the kind of hollow movie suspense that Michael Haneke deconstructed and savagely mocked in both versions of Funny Games.

Ending with a completely ridiculous Peter Jackson-esque gag involving a microwave oven that completely destroys the entire tone of the film, this Last House on the Left is a stylish but pointless exercise that wastes all the great talent involved. For a film that tries hard to be more sophisticated, it ends up as little more than another cog in the Hollywood remake machine.

2 1/2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

21 Comments

  1. FINALLY saw this thing, and I loved it. Ten times better than Craven’s original. It dodges the extreme violence and social commentary but more than makes up for it by throwing away that horrible sub-plot with the cops trying to make it to the scene in time, and with Potter and Goldwyn’s excellent performances.

    Superior remake, all around. Superior, period. Love it.
    ———-
    “We are bad guys. That means we’ve got more to do other than bullying companies. It’s fun to lead a bad man’s life.”

  2. two and a half out of five.

    so better than the original then? i do give Craven leeway for it being his debut movie, but the cops and chicken lady in the original completely killed it for me. yes i know they’re barely in it, but every ten minutes or so they show up to bring the whole thing crashing down.

  3. Personally, I think they told the entire story incredibly well in the trailer. The other 108 minutes of the movie were fairly unnecessary.

    • “Breaking the fourth wall” is when someone from the movie looks out and addresses the audience. It’s an old film technique.

      There’s a running gag cause we used it to describe Funny Games and Creepy didn’t understand what it meant. ;)

          • Well I didn’t like the original LHOTL to begin with. I guess it was because I saw “Virgin Spring” before hand so to me anythings better then either version of LHOTL.

          • It is indeed. Although I can’t classify it as horror film (even though IMDB claims it is at the moment) I recommend it to everyone here.

          • At least we can count on the LAST HOUSE remake not being the sort of faux-intellectual, contemptuous, eggheaded tripe that was FUNNY GAMES. Fuck Michael Haneke – for all his “deconstructionist commentary” rigamarole, the sad truth is that many of the films he was attempting to comment on ask more provocative questions than he ever considered.

            I’d love to see him have a debate with Wes Craven. Craven would mop the floor with him.

  4. Interesting review but have three questions for you Kasch:
    1. Will there be a DFF about this movie?
    2. Have you seen “The Virgin Spring”?
    3. Did you want this movie to break the fourth wall?

  5. Please don’t kill me for feeding the MACHINE, but I do plan to watch it, if for no other reason than missing Fired Up and being sad at not getting to see Nic Agosto shirtless : (

    I don’t know how the two are related, but they just are. Oh, and I wanna see the castr-ellatio.

    • Then you’re gonna be disappointed. It’s not in here…nor is any of the real substance of Craven’s original. Seems to me like all they did here was give an old ride a fresh coat of paint. Nothing about this film, IMO, save for the acting and the film quality, as Kasch pointed out, is anything superior to the original.

      In particular, I had HUGE issues with the ending kill, the revision to the whole Mari subplot, and the way the parents took on Krug’s group.

      I really didn’t care for this LAST HOUSE a whole lot.

  6. Having read Vern’s review on Aintitcool.com, I have to say, this was a great review in comparison. Good job, Kasch!

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