Written by Nikki Baughan Wednesday, 17 June 2009 21:02
Horror remakes are fast becoming a staple of the Hollywood diet. Where studio execs were once content to churn out endless by-the-numbers sequels to their biggest hits, so spawning the classic 1980s horror franchises, they have now realised it’s easier to just reboot the original movie to appeal to a whole new audience. And while some remakes have been passable – and, to its credit, The Last House on the Left just scrapes into this category, the question still remains. Why bother?In the case of Dennis Iliadis' film, the answer can only be to cash in on the thirst of young, modern cinema-goers for these young, modern updates of classics that they were too, well, young to remember first time around. As, apart from amping up the gore and brutality this remake adds nothing new to Wes Craven’s seminal 1972 low-budget revenge thriller.
And, like the original, it’s not a film for the feint of heart – in fact, several people walked out of the screening I attended. The scenes in which young Mari (an excellent Sarah Paxton) – on vacation with her parents in an isolated backwoods town – and her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) are attacked, raped and left for dead by prison escapee Krug (an extremely disturbing performance by Garret Dillahunt) and his deranged family are unbearable to watch, and not just because of the stomach-churning events unfolding on screen. The ultra-real, handheld camera aesthetic forces the audience into the role of voyeur, an accomplice even to these heinous acts. Yet it could be argued that we need to see this level of violence, extreme as it is, to be able to buy into the rest of the story. As, in an extremely coincidental twist of fate, Krug and his gang seek shelter at the home of John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter), who are, unbeknownst to them, Mari’s parents. And when Mari turns up, half-dead, on the porch, Mum and Dad put two and two together and exact a bloody revenge on the thugs who violated their daughter.
The idea at the heart of Iliadas’s film is unchanged from Craven’s original; is violence any more tolerable when it is revenge for a horrifying wrongdoing, when the victims deserve what’s coming to them? And, indeed vengeful parents John and Emma are the strongest characters on screen, their anger and own brand of justice understandable and even forgivable. Goldwyn is particularly good as the father desperate to protect his only daughter, going some way to ground the film during its more frantic moments.
If the message is the same, however, it is in danger of being overwhelmed by a level of pantomime gore in the latter half of the film that far exceeds the original. Whereas Craven was on a tight budget and so allowed the story to tell itself, Iliadas clearly had money to play with. And so we see everything, including the kitchen sink, thrown into the family’s fight for survival. Compared with the gritty, realistic tone of the attacks on the girls, the stand-off climax of the film is showy, OTT and – at times – illicited giggles from the audience. As such, the moral message that forms the chilling heart of The Last House on the Left gets lost amongst the fracas.
It may not be entirely the fault of the film-makers, however. After all, there is a massive audience baying for the new blood of these horror remakes, and Last House was the third biggest movie in America when it opened there in March. And these audiences are far less easy to shock that they were back in 1972, so drip fed a diet of real life brutality on the news that film-makers have to go ever further to provoke a reaction - this new breed of torture porn being one such tactic. That much of the online discussion about Last House has been about whether you really can kill a man with a microwave, rather than whether you should, speaks to the ‘seen it all’ mentality of modern horror fans.
But, of course, this is fiction and the fact remains that Last House is a mixed bag; horrifying in one instance, laughable in another. Those who like their scares wrapped up in unthinking levels of gore and brutality will get their kicks; those who look for more psychological depth should check out Wes Craven’s original.
Stars Sarah Paxton, Tony Goldwyn, Garret Dillahunt
Director Dennis Iliadis
Screenplay Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth
Distributor Universal Pictures
Running Time 1hr 50mins
Opened June 12