3.15.2009

The Last House on the Left (2009): Exploitation Redux


A remake to get excited about!

Admittedly when I first discovered that a remake of Last House was in the works, I was perturbed. Normally, I don’t get too upset about remakes, but my first thought was: how does a Hollywood studio remake a film like The Last House on the Left? The fiber of the original was comprised of so much anger, rebellion, contention, and shock that I didn’t see the film having its place in this context. Eventually, upon more reflection, I realized: what a great film to remake.
We are dealing with a “classic” that wasn’t a masterpiece by any means. Fraught with technical problems, a dated mise-en-scene, a peculiar score, and a general sense of unpleasantness, Wes Craven’s film was begging for an update. The basic concept of the film is compelling enough to deserve a respectable budget, talented cast, and a viewing from modern audiences. After my ponderings and reading remarkably positive reviews for Dennis Iliadis’ version, I couldn’t wait to see the film.

My viewing experience was slightly tainted by the annoying pubescent audience members that snuck in to the movie—only to text, walk up and down the aisles, and frequent the bathroom in groups during the entire film. Some of these kids looked as young as ten and I thought to myself, hmm this is going to be interesting and perhaps awkward.


I'm not sure I would trust these people...especially the last guy on the left

Regardless, I tried my best to focus on the film. And what a film it was. The first act of the film sets up the good guys and the bad guys. We see the evil gang rescue Krug from the cops and get a taste of their brutality. Meanwhile, we see the Collingwood family begin their family vacation at the lake house. Mari (Sara Paxton) is given some more depth than in the original, pushing herself as a swimmer to “go for the gold” as her cherished locket wishes. Somehow her dedication to swimming is related to her recently-deceased brother. I appreciated the filmmakers not trying to pack too much explanation into this. While so many horror films utilize the dead family member exposition to sketch in some feigned character development, it feels more purposeful here. Her athleticism, connection to the water, and dead brother make later plot points more meaningful. We understand why her parents are so wary about her hanging out with a friend and are all the more devastated over Mari’s attack—they already lost one child and can’t accept losing another.


So cute and innocent

As Mari and her friend Paige are persuaded into the hotel room of Justin (the son of Krug), I couldn’t help but get the feeling that some moral lesson was being prescribed: don’t do drugs and don’t talk to strangers. I’m not sure why I felt this pedantic tone so strongly. Maybe it’s because I knew what was coming. It was painful to watch the girls giggling and full of life, while I’m just dreading what’s to come. Normally, I can sink into the moment of the film, but not here. The entire hotel scene was drenched with sick anticipation.

*MINOR SPOILERS*


The attack and rape of the girls is brutal. While Iliadis’ film is not quite as depraved as Craven’s, the most vicious moments are more powerful because they are used more sparingly. The rape of Mari is long, arduous, and difficult to watch. The murder of Paige is almost as slow and painful. The cruelty is much more intimate than in the original. Craven’s villains were clown-like and didn’t seem to care much about what they were doing. To use M. Bison’s words, to them “It was Tuesday.” However, the remake’s killers are more cold, calculated, and vengeful. One gets the impression that if Mari and Paige hadn’t put up as much of a fight, they would have merely shot them in the head and dumped them in the lake. However, Krug, Sadie, and Francis are too pissed to let them go without debasing them first.

*END SPOILERS*

She's come a long way since Aquamarine

To those that argue that Last House is shameful and gratuitous, I would contend that the last half of the film would not work without the setup. The more we see of the crimes, the more outraged we become, the more we empathize with the parents, and the more we root for the criminals to die. It’s a lot easier to create a normal slasher film, where the victims are the hunted. Last House has the challenge of reversing the usual formula and creating an environment where we not only cheer for the destruction of evil but cheer for the good guys to become as brutal as the bad.

How can you not feel for these parents?

Some of my only complaints about the film are regarding shot selection. There are some strange choices in shot design and editing throughout the film. When shooting dialogue between people, the shots are typically supposed to mirror one another. The lack of unity made some scenes awkward. The framing on Krug when he was driving the SUV…come on guys! A close-up is forehead to just below the chin, not chin to chest. Sure, maybe you couldn’t adjust the car mount mid-shot. Maybe the studio wouldn’t let you reshoot, but the editor didn’t have to showcase the bad camerawork!

Technical details aside, Last House is a strong film. Incredible story, decent writing, great acting, more-than-capable directing, and some good gore to boot! For the record, I don’t think the ending is as bad as everyone else says it is.


3 comments:

  1. I think this is a difficult film. I have some philosophical problems with the slickness of the last act compared to the more verite-style violence earlier, but it is a remake that is far superior to the near-criminal Platinum Dunes remakes thrust upon an unsuspecting public.

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  2. That's a good point, but if the verite-style was maintained, it may have meshed the good and evil more than the filmmakers were willing.

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  3. The original was too much for me. Not sure I will ever see this one. I would probably like the "slickness of the last act", though.

    JM

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