Written by: Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth (screenplay), Wes Craven (earlier film)
Directed by: Dennis Iliadis
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn, and Sara Paxton
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"You wanna hear about how tight your homecoming queen was?"
At the rate remakes seemingly have been flooding theaters during the past few years, I'm a bit surprised that it took so long for The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven's debut shocker, to be introduced to modern audiences. Given that the original film was shockingly graphic for its time, I figured it to be the perfect aesthetic fit during a time where gore and torture seem to be in vogue. Of course, the original Last House is also very much a product of its times and relies heavily on its socio-political implications, as the entire film serves as a allegory for the destruction of the "Flower Power" era in America and provided a landmark introduction to the grim, nihilistic tendencies of 70s horror cinema. Thus, the remake had rather large shoes to fill in this respect; however, I had to reasonably jettison such expectations going into the redux because a film like the original Last House on the Left is a bit like catching lightning in a bottle, as it takes the right time and story to have the sort of historical impact it had. Instead, I went into the remake expecting a film that might push the envelope and introduce yet another fabled Last House to the genre.
For the most part, the setup here is the same as it is in the original, with a few minor changes. The Collingwoods and their daughter, Mari, set out to their lake house for a vacation. Mari soon decides to head into town and meet up with a friend, Paige, and the two happen to encounter a strange young man, Justin, who offers them a chance to score some weed at his hotel room. Unbeknownst to Mari and Paige, Justin's father (Krug) and uncle (Francis) are recently-escaped convicts who return to the hotel room earlier than expected. This, of course, is bad news for the two girls, who are soon subjected to rape and torture before being left for dead. In a twist of fate, the group of convicts arrives at the Collingwood home to regroup themselves. Before long, the two parents become aware of just who these guests are, and set out to turn their home into a house of horrors for Krug and company.
Before I sink my teeth into the redux, let me establish a frame of reference as to where I stand on the original film. As a lifelong horror fan, I appreciate the historical significance of The Last House on the Left (itself a loose remake of Bergman's The Virgin Spring), as it introduced the genre to some fairly major players in Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, and, to a lesser extent, Steve Miner, all of whom would go on to produce significant films in the genre. That being said, the original film is hardly a masterpiece on a technical level, as Craven's direction still feels very raw; furthermore, the film is an odd one tonally speaking as well, as much of the comedy and musical choices are discordant with the grim subject matter of the film. As a whole, it all blends together into something unique and visceral, and it's ultimately a very effective film.
The remake, of course, dispenses with any such rawness, as it's a very polished Hollywood film. Of course, I couldn't reasonably expect it to feel like a 70s era exploitation film, but it still feels somewhat soulless in some way, as there's ultimately nothing to distinguish it from other films of its ilk. Despite the higher production values, the new Last House on the Left proves that effective horror filmmaking can't exactly be bought. This is not to say that the new film is awful by any stretch--it isn't--however, it is somewhat unremarkable when it's all said and done for a myriad reasons. First of all, Krug and the other antagonists aren't very effective or memorable, outside of one sequence when Garret Dillahunt seems to come alive and inhabit the role of Krug. While the film retains the father/son dynamic between Krug and Justin from the original, it feels largely unexplored here, and, frankly, it just doesn't feel as depraved as it should because it's just a cliched father/son relationship. Unfortunately, both Francis (who plays the "Weasel" role) and Sadie are pretty much wasted, and the three as a whole just don't have much chemistry together.
Furthermore, the film as a whole just doesn't feel "sleazy" enough, which probably sounds like an outlandish criticism. Hear me out, however: if you're going to use one of the more notorious titles in horror history, I feel like you should truly push the envelope and craft something that feels more disturbing than this film. Don't get me wrong--I'm not going to trivialize the events of this film, as its subject matter is quite brutal; however, it never feels grim or gritty enough. In fact, it feels exactly how I would expect a Hollywood version of The Last House on the Left to feel; however, I can't help but feel that the film is a bit of a cop-out as it never pushes the envelope like I thought it would, particularly given the horror climate we're living in now. There is quite a bit of graphic violence, but, outside of one particularly memorable scene, it feels somewhat trite. I can't help but be somewhat amazed that the new film was outdone in this respect by the 35 year old original.
Oddly enough, the film does employ its graphic violence to somewhat shift the aesthetic of the film around from its predecessor. I always felt as if the original film revealed the disturbing levels of depths to which normal people can descend given the right unfortunate circumstances; the remake, however, seems to want us to delight in this violence. The audience I was with cheered wildly at the acts of revenge perpetrated by the Collingwoods, which was quite unexpected. I'm not exactly criticizing the film for this shift, but it makes sense given the film's ending, which makes the film feel a bit too upbeat, to be honest.
Lest I only dwell on this film in relation to the original, I should note that I enjoyed the acting of the protagonists. Sara Paxton's Mari is much different than her predecessor in that she actually seems much more innocent, which makes her fate a bit more disturbing and pitiful. Similarly, Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn make the Collingwoods a relatable couple that are easy to root for, which is key for the film's third act. Also, Dennis Iliadis does a good job behind the camera, though he does over-use the now cliched "shaky-cam" technique at times. This hurt Mari's attempted escape from the car especially, as I found it difficult to follow the action and figure out if she had escaped for not. Otherwise, the film is quite slick, and the cinemetography is very well done. It represents a 180 shift from Craven's documentary style, but this is to be expected.
Ultimately, 2009's version of Last House on the Left won't likely leave a mark like the 1972 version did. It is, however, a decently made horror film that's easy to digest, which is an odd thing to say about a film titled Last House on the Left. It lacks the overall strange and exploitative feel of the original, and pretty much plays it safe throughout the course of the narrative. It's not particularly shocking or disturbing, but it does play out as a nice revenge tale. In the end, horror vets will want to check it out, but I can't see too many return trips to this House in the future. Rent it!
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