10 October 2009

Movie Review: The Last House on the Left (2009)


B-

The Last House on the Left
2009, 110mins, R
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Writer (s): Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth, Wes Craven (original film)
Cast includes: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, Sara Paxton, Riki Lindhome
Release Date: 13th March 2009

“The Last House on the Left” is an interesting remake, a polished and yet visceral output via Hollywood’s obsessive retread machine. Stylishly shot and with a far longer running than the original movie the picture still retains a kindred link via its unblinking violence and stone faced screenplay. Those with a weak stomach would be sensible to let this movie pass you by but for the folks with a tolerance for such spine tingling shenanigans, I wouldn’t recommend you be so dismissive. The picture definitely loses a wallop of focus and power in its third act but until that point this is an oddly compelling addition to the year’s horror offerings.

The story opens with the Collingwood clan heading to their lakeside cabin, in the last twelve months their number has dropped from four to three and the family are looking to enjoy a relaxing holiday for the first time since the tragic passing. On the first night of vacation 17 year old Mari (Sara Paxton) heads out with old friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) and ends up in a motel room smoking weed with her gal pal and new acquaintance, the nervous but likeable Justin (Spencer Treat Clark). However the party comes to an end when wanted criminal and father to Justin, Krug (Garret Dillahunt) arrives with his band of murderous accomplices. Unable to risk the girls having seen them move through town he brutally stabs Paige, rapes Mari and leaves her for dead with a bullet in her back. With a storm moving in the group seek refuge in the nearest house, unaware that it’s the holiday home Mari shares with her parents. Initially welcoming the Collingwoods (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter) are quickly thrown into a fit of rage, a clue left by Justin and a half dead Mari rolling up to the door allowing the spouses to put two and two together. Realizing the extent of Krug’s violence the pair in no uncertain terms launch into a vengeful assault on the murderous band, resulting in a case of small scale but passionately fought warfare in the domestic environment.

For his American debut Greek filmmaker Dennis Iliadis has done good work here, honouring Wes Craven’s original film whilst still infusing an extra degree of contemporary technical gloss. The film is clearly broken into three acts, the best of which are easily the beginning and middle. The first 30 minutes do a surprisingly decent job of building character, aided by some sturdy performances. The acting in “The Last House on the Left” is never any better than it needs to be but rarely is it any worse, the best efforts coming courtesy of Goldwyn and Potter as the sickened and bloodthirsty parents. Garret Dillahunt is credible as lead bad boy Krug and Sara Paxton does a neat job of conveying the tortured youth at the plot’s centre. The middle segment is brilliantly devised in the way it pushes the tension to an almost unbearable degree. Only the audience is privy to the bigger picture, the killers unaware that the hospitality they’re exploiting is that of their victim’s parents, the hosts oblivious to the fact the strangers whom they’re helping have shot and raped their daughter.

The climax is where it all goes a bit pear shaped, Iliadis having made two thirds of a good movie only to taint it via an obvious and gratuitous finish. The question posed by the picture is an intriguing one, how far would you go to hurt those who’ve made your child suffer? Yet whilst the middle section builds wonderfully up to the resolution of this issue the answer never quite satisfies, descending instead into bloody battering ram mode. The rape scenes and moments of unquestionable brutality in the middle have already established the feature as a tough watch from a sensory standpoint, the fact the movie refuses to let up afterward a little disconcerting. I’m all for doses of hardcore violence but certain scenes in “The Last House on the Left” are unnecessarily vicious, culminating in a final kill that reeks of CGI gore and laugh filled disgust. Goldwyn and Potter’s rampage is where this project feels more like an undercooked “Saw” sequel rather than the fascinating and unrelenting horror experience that the first 80 minutes suggest.

The cinematography is artistic in a reserved and attractive nature, capturing the mood of the flick as it topples from breezy family getaway to blood spilling carnage. It’s hard to outright champion “The Last House on the Left” as it clearly won’t be to all tastes, some of the horrific actions depicted will undoubtedly from some corners garner hate toward the filmmakers rather than the villains. Adding to the recommendation conundrum it’s impossible to neglect that the ending feels sloppy and lacks either the punch or slow burn menace of other parts, this particular offering ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Still it’s hard to deny that the majority of the film works and for a horror remake the performances are unusually resilient. For horror fans I’m happy to suggest giving “The Last House on the Left” a go, otherwise however, You might want to assess your opinions on such genre offerings with a fair degree of discrimination before diving head first into Dennis Iliadis’s twisted interpretation.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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