Combustible Celluloid
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With: Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen, Joshua Cox, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul, Sara Paxton, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn, Martha MacIsaac, Spencer Treat Clark, Usha Khan
Written by: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth, based on a screenplay by Wes Craven
Directed by: Dennis Iliadis
MPAA Rating: R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/13/2009

The Last House on the Left (2009)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Monstrous 'House'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The project to re-make every single horror classic for new teenage consumption has fallen to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), which has always been something a little more -- or a little less -- than a horror film. (It was also based on Ingmar Bergman's 1960 masterpiece The Virgin Spring.) Unrelentingly violent and harrowing, the original featured the tag line: "To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'" The basic idea behind it had nothing to do with the supernatural, nor any kind of "crime" or "thriller" movie genre. The idea was merely that evil exists, it exists in various forms, and it can pop up at any time. The new remake sticks with the basic idea for a long while. Two girls (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac) head out for a night of fun and run into a trio of killers, who proceed to rape and murder them. Stranded, the killers make their way through the woods and wind up at the home of one of the girls. The girl's parents (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) don't know who their guests are, and don't know that their little girl has been attacked.

As with the original, the remake shows the rape scene head-on, agonizingly brutal. No one who sees it will be unaffected by it. But there the movie departs from the original. Firstly, we have the addition of a teenager, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who travels with the evil killers (his father, played by Garret Dillahunt and his uncle, played by Aaron Paul); he doesn't agree with their violent behavior but is too scared to stand up to them. He's the ambiguous link between good and evil, and he muddies the story considerably. Also, one of the killers is now a woman (Riki Lindhome); she watches her husband/boyfriend rape the teenage girl, and then later cuddles in bed with him. (There's twisted and evil, and then there's just ludicrous.) Thirdly, about halfway through the movie pulls back from some of its dark places and sets things up for a sort-of happy ending.

But here's the movie's biggest mistake. The revenge scene in which the parents turn on the killers is handled as cheaply and ineptly as possible. In Craven's version, the violence was clumsy and fast and realistic. Here it's prolonged and mistimed, with characters gaining supernatural strength so that they can pop up again and again after being stabbed and/or shot. Other characters wait outside the frame holding a fire extinguisher or whatnot, waiting for an appropriate moment to shock the audience, rather than join the fray. It works getting the audience agitated, screaming at the characters for their stupidity, but it also nullifies the sickening power of the previous rape scene, turning the film from deadly serious to schlocky. Craven's version was sloppy and amateurish and felt like a disturbing home movie. This one feels like a Hollywood movie, like a product to be sold. Whatever else the new The Last House on the Left achieves, I can't forgive it that.

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