Thursday, October 22, 2009

Film Review: 'The Last House On The Left' (2009)

Review by: ChrisWard
Directed by: Denis Iliadis
Written by: Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth

When discussing movies and remakes in particular, the word ‘classic’ is often bandied around, usually in a sentence that goes along the lines of ‘They shouldn’t remake the classics’ or ‘They shouldn’t touch that – it’s a classic’. This may have been true in the past, with ‘classics’ like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘The Omen getting a makeover, with varying results. ‘The Last House on the Left’ sort of gets away with it, because Wes Craven’s 1972 original was a very crude piece of filmmaking, and was more groundbreaking than classic.

Classic implies that it’s universally loved and appreciated, and ‘TLHOTL’ certainly wasn’t that. It was a movie that split audiences down the middle – those who saw it as a slightly arty commentary on how cruel society was, or those who saw it as cheap exploitation – but whatever side of the argument you went with, one couldn’t deny it’s power and the fact that it was probably the first movie that fell into the horror category without having aliens, monsters, vampires or zombies. It’s power came from the fact that the ‘monster’ in the movie was a person, or group of people, and that the events really could take place.

The plot of the movie is essentially the same as the original, with a few minor cosmetic changes, but for those who haven’t had the pleasure, it goes something like this; John and Emma Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) go to their lakeside summer house with their teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton). After arriving, Mari takes the family car and visits her friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac), who works in the local convenience store. Overhearing the girls talking about smoking pot, a teenage boy called Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) invites the girls back to his motel room to indulge in a little narcotic usage, but just when the Justin, Paige and Mari are starting to enjoy themselves they’re interrupted by Justin’s escaped convict father Krug (Garret Dillahunt), his lover Sadie (Riki Lindhome) and his brother Frank (Aaron Paul), and they’re not happy! Not wanting to risk being caught, the gang kidnap the girls, steal their car and head out into the country. After a botched escape attempt, during which the car gets wrecked, the gang start torturing the girls – including stabbing Paige and raping Mari - and, believing them both to be dead they head back along the road to look for shelter from the incoming storm.

Unfortunately for Krug and his cronies, the first house they come across is Mari’s parents’ house, and still assuming their daughter to be out with her friends, the Collingwood’s invite the group in to see to their injuries and offer them a room for the night. It isn’t long, however, before Justin, who was powerless to help Mari while she was being raped, figures out who his hosts are and leaves a necklace dropped by Mari in their kitchen. After their guests have gone to bed, John and Emma find a barely alive Mari on the porch, and after finding the necklace that Emma knows Mari was wearing, they put two and two together and realise who is staying in their house, and decide to take action...

As previously stated, the basic plot differs very little from the original, and as far as remakes go this one is pretty solid. The actors are all fine in their roles, with particular credit going to Goldwyn and Potter as the distraught parents forced to go against everything they believe in to exact revenge on their daughter’s torturers. The character of Krug was very interesting, as Dillahunt plays him with appropriate coldness and cruelty, although he does lack the wicked charm of the original’s David Hess.

The rape scene is as uncomfortable to watch as you would expect, but the other tortures dished out on the girls don’t seem quite as degrading, in as much as although you are still watching innocent young girls getting punched and stabbed, nobody is forced to piss themselves, as they were in the original. The violence that is dished out once the Collingwood’s find out who they are sheltering is suitably grisly, especially Krug’s ultimate demise – although is it really possible to do that to somebody? To say any more would mean spoilers, so you’ll just have to watch, but due to it’s unlikely plausibility it does detract slightly from the overall flow. Well done (!), but just a bit too absurd.

Overall, though, ‘The Last House on the Left’ is a well made, well acted and very watchable thriller. Due to it being a remake, and a remake of a movie nearly forty years old, it could never have the shocking impact of its source material, but that probably isn’t the point. Wes Craven has often stated that his original movie was made by a bunch of people not really knowing what they were doing, so this was his chance to do it properly – and he has. Doing the same thing as he did with the 2006 remake of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, Craven has hired a younger director to add a different flavour to his vision, and Dennis Iliadis certainly brings a more colourful sense of style to proceedings. People will bemoan it being more polished and more professional – Illiadis uses some wonderful long shots and his eye for colours is fantastic – but surely that is the point of a remake; taking something that wasn’t that great to start with and making it better.

There are quite a few continuity and editing errors, and that ending is slightly dodgy, but this is one remake that updates its story nicely whilst retaining the edge and threat of the original. It isn’t groundbreaking like that movie was, but it is easier to watch and, unlike the original, will withstand repeated viewing.


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