Last House on the Left, The (2009)
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.
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 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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