The Last House on the Left
starring Sara Paxton, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Martha Maclsaac, Spencer Treat Clark, Garret Dillahunt, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul
written by Carl Ellsworth & Adam Alleca
based on "The Last House on the Left" written & directed by Wes Craven
directed by Dennis Illiadis
Rogue Pictures, 2009, 100 mins., Rated R
*** (out of ****)
First thought exiting the theater: that was AWESOME! Second thought: I guess the main point of the movie is - join a damn swim team. (you'll understand better seeing the movie) Having never seen the original 1972 film by Wes Craven, this isn't going to turn into a comparison piece with me berating remakes and labeling them unnecessary, and how the "re-imagining" can never live up to the original; instead, I'm judging this film on its own merits. And this may surprise you, but The Last House on the Left is a damn good movie - it thrills you in all the right places and it pulls you emotionally into the scenes and characters. I don't think it would be a understatement that this is the best horror/thriller released in '09 yet.
Meet the Collingwoods - there's the father Jim, the mother Emma, and daughter Mary. They're going on vacation to their cabin in the woods in order to get back to some sort of normality, as they're still reeling from the death of Ben, Mary's brother. Mary, wanting to get away from her parents as soon as possible, get the heck out of Dodge and meets up with her buddy Paige, currently on duty at a convenience story. Once there, they talk about life, boys, getting wasted - the normal stuff. Well, their conversation gets overheard by a skulking teenage boy who offers them some of his dope, but it's at his motel. The girls go the motel, the boy expecting his guardians to be gone for a hour or so, but they unexpectedly arrive, thus putting a damper on the situation. See, these aren't your normal folks - these guys just sprung one of them, the boys' father, from custody, and these killers are on the run. And now that Paige and Mary have seen their faces, well - too much of a reliability. Later that evening, when all is said and done, a car crash forces the gang to take safe haven at a cabin...it just so turns out to be Emma and Jim's cabin. Eventually, they learn the truth of what happened, and those responsible, and the two plot out some down-and-dirty revenge.
First off, this movie is brutal. I heard the original had some very memorable scenes, and this one has its shares, as well. Rape seems to be getting more mainstream, as both this and Watchmen depict it in a uncompromisingly fashion, never sugar-coding it, which is probably for the best. The rape sequence here is harsh to watch, but Ms. Paxton captures our attention by the look she gives us in her eyes - one that could either be pain or complete nothingness. It's eerie and uncomfortable, but the acting makes it an amazing sequence. The death of her friend Paige (not really a spoiler) is equally as disturbing, as she's knifed to death in an all-too realistic fashion. Keep in mind, this isn't like a Friday the 13th film with fake blood tossed all over the place - this is about as honest-to-God real-ish as it gets in these type of flicks. While the parents exact their revenge, it's just as brutal, and just as merciless.
The movie also brings up the top of ethics and morality. Politically speaking, what this film depicts is wrong and these parents should be incarcerated. But emotionally, the audience is rooting for them all the way. We like to thing of ourselves as a just body of people, always displaying the goodness of human nature, but it's through movies like this and Watchmen that we should be getting the point - we're not all so good. Parents know that if their child was in danger, they would stop at nothing to get them out of harm's way. Throughout the entire movie, everyone wants these bad guys to get their asses hand to them, to pay for what they did; whereas look at Friday the 13th (if I may use that film as a example again), where we want Jason to slice and dice these idiotic teenagers to pieces. Those films are about having fun with the genre, and doesn't pull at the audiences' emotions like this one does. Politically speaking blokes would probably say this is wrong (as would a good handful of audience members), but the overwhelming majority would absolutely approve of what Jim and Emma do to these guys. [this sorta makes me think about the current season of "24", which is going through all of these ethical dilemmas throughout the season] It's just a going nowhere, interesting thought I wagered to bring up.
As our leading lady, Alexis Bledel-look-alike Sara Paxton is spectacular. We feel what she's feeling as she pulls us into her life so easily with how she acts, how she moves. Most interesting is her reactions and, furthermore, actions concerning the frakked up situation she's in. Cool-headed and calculating: if she wasn't a goodie two-shoes, she probably would be a fearsome Jigsaw-like bad guy. Martha Maclsaac, or better known as "that girl from Superbad!", seems to quite enjoy walking around in her bra, as most of her screen time in both films is spent hardly dressed. Here, she's stuck with the rebellious girl doing stupid things role, but at least she's given some occasionally humorous dialog here and there. The parents are awesome. Simply awesome. Played by Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter, they light up the screen, [though I confess there were times I mistook Goldwyn as Jake Weber, the dude from Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake in '04, and also on NBC's Medium; they sorta look alike] displaying a sense of warmth with their daughter, slight agony from the death of their son a year before and the depression that comes with it, and rage at the people responsible for their current predicament.
Garret Dillahunt (TV: The Sarah Connor Chornicles) plays the ring-leader Krung, and he's about as sadistic and scary as you can imagine. Suffice it to say, you're not exactly feeling sorry for him when shit hits the fall for him and his groupies. Riki Lindhorne freaked me out as Krung's girlfriend Sadie, and also delivered the "mandatory" on-screen nudity; I would not want to mess with this girl. All these actors - with a very fine, very tight screenplay - help propel this movie into "must-see" waters; everyone is on their A-game, and every single one of them is a treat to watch.
Ah, and I also want to address the last sixty seconds, as I heard people aren't all that enthusiastic about the epilogue. I'm not sure of the full extent of their grievances, and thus can't exactly give my version of their complaints, but I'll just give off my point-of-view of it. First off, I find that particular death to be corny, and definitely doesn't flow with what came before. That said, it was still entertaining. Everyone in the audience either laughed, cheered, or clapped when this big event happened. It was a powerful moment that was absolutely necessary - as it was a culmination of audience and character emotions hitting the breaking point. It's the final revenge, and unquestionably the most sadistic. Would I change how it came about? I probably would. But for what it's worth, it works.
The Last House on the Left was intense, gruesome, and bloody enjoyable. It comes highly recommended from yours truly. I don't think seeing the original is a prerequisite, as this stands up well enough on its own, but it might be worth checking out, if this remake is any indication of the awesomeness and creepiness of the original.