Last House on the Left (2009)
Revenge is one of the most powerful of all the human emotions. It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold, but the reality is the actual act usually performed in the heat of the moment devoid of any thought planning or consideration. When revenge combined with another powerful motivator, defense of a man’s family, the result can make for a taut and emotionally very powerful story. Actions such as this are ingrained deeply in all branches of humanity. The Bible even carries the account of the rape of Dinah, sister of the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel by the men of Shechem. It is only natural that these exceptionally intense themes would carry through to modern movies. Many films have used this combination of revenge and the defense of family against various setting, but one of the best uses is to drive a thriller. In recent years the thriller genre has become largely consumed by horror resulting in s hybrid genre that is typically more splatter than true thrills. The latest movie to take on this basic premise is ‘Last House on the Left.’ The premise is so attractive to filmmakers that this outing is just the latest in a list of interpretations of the subject matter. In 1960 Ingmar Bergman's brought the story of a father avenging the brutal rape of his daughter back and medieval Sweden, then in 1972 it was Wes Craven’s turn at bat with ‘Last House on the Left,’ and the story was more of a horror genre twist. The latest rendition using the same title is by Dennis Iliadis who pushes it as a flow blown horror flick. It is interesting to gather up all three variations and make a marathon up it, I pulled my Bergman collection out, located my copy of the Craven film and watched them after I had seen this version and completed this review. It was fascinating to see how the same themes are addressed and presented by three different directors with vastly different viewpoints and methodology. While this latest version pales in comparison to the Bergman, it does give the Craven variation a rub and in some respects offers some improvements.
The screenplay authorship is credited to Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth. This is the freshman opus for Alleca, but Ellsworth has some notable experience with thrillers encompassing the likes of ‘Disturbia’ and ‘Red Eye.’ The basic premise presents one of the more interesting and emotionally satisfying plot devices; pushing a reason beyond the point of rational behavior. In this, the moral dilemma arises when a young woman is brutalized, and circumstances are such that her attackers wind up in her family home. In a case like this, you think it would be bad for the family to be caught inside by the fiends are trapped with the girl’s father. From the vantage point afford to the audience the father is acting with a sense of justice although his actions would be considered highly illegal. The audience can cheer on the man and not feel the least bit of moral outrage or regret; he was just doing what any man would do in taking care of his own. This is a refreshing change from the mindless violence and carnage that most horror thrillers rely on. With a well-crafted vengeance flick, there is a sense of righteousness prevailing over evil even when the law is helpless to make things right.
Every aspect of this story is designed to avoid any stray thought or moral ambiguity by ensuring the bad guys are so evil they pretty much deserve anything that is dished out to them. In contrast, the Collingwood family is painted as completely upstanding and likable. While on vacation daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) borrows the family car to heads into town. While hanging out with her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) the meet a young man passing through, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark). He invites the girls back to his hotel to get high. This isn’t justification for what we all know is about to happen, but it is a little warning about the dangers of drugs or just being stupid. While in the room they are joined by the boy’s father Krug (Garret Dillahunt), Justin’s uncle, Francis (Aaron Paul), and Sadie (Riki Lindhome), Krug’s girlfriend. Sadie and Francis just sprang Krung from police custody killing a couple of cops in the process. They plan to use the car to get away, but there is an accident. Krung decides its time for his son to be a man and a little betting and rape seems like just the thing. She tries to escape again, is shot and left for dead nut survives. A storm forces Justin and is motley relatives to seek shelter in, of all places, the Collingwood house. After learning who they are and what they did Daddy decides to make them pay. The film is a good popcorn flick, and it improves the pacing and narrative from the Craven version.
This incarnation does suffer from the phenomenon often referred to as, remake dilution. The filmmaker tries so diligently to walk the fine line between properly infusing his work that the themes and intensity that made the original successful while making sure the final film reflects his style and sensibilities. This is extremely similar to another pair of films in this situation that just happened to be in the same, genre ‘Straw Dogs. The original 1971 version was a masterpiece of the cinematic arts. This film embodied a sense of righteous indignation that intended to help justify the use of violence that was poised to transgress the line into torture. This was the forte of filmmaker, Sam Peckinpah. When revisited in 2011 by Rod Lurie, he created a suitably brutal movie but it could not match the synergistic juxtaposition of psychological intensity and artistic craftsmanship achieved by Mr. Peckinpah. Then again, few filmmakers can. Similarly, the original incarnation of this story was written and directed by a certified Master of Horror and preeminent member of the genre, Wes Craven. In a set of circumstances directly akin to this film, Mr. Iliadis is on the way to establishing himself with psychologically disturbing movies, but there is a significant learning curve ahead of him before he can approach master class consideration. I do him greatly for taking on a definitive classic of the genre. No one advances in their craft without stretching beyond their comfort zone, their current level of expertise. Mr. Iliadis undoubtedly was out of his depth here, but that is the only way to challenge him and progress. He was very smart to get Mr. Craven to sign on as a producer though. Some might suggest that the original needed to have some judicious trimming. The original consistently is found on various top ten lists denoting the most controversial, brutal and sadistic films. Ultimately, the members of the audience with the predilection for extreme crulity in their horror will d=shun this bowdlerized rendition.
Posted 08/21/09 11/29/2014 02/07/2018