Monday, October 13, 2014

The Last House on the Left (2009)

A while back, after Wes Craven became more of a luminary director, accepted as a mainstream moviemaker after helming theScream series of films, I decided to seek out his earlier films to watch.  I was familiar with quite a few already, but wanted to delve deeper into his past.  I was, and still am, a huge fan of his A Nightmare on Elm Street film, enjoyed the hell out of Deadly Friend and Shocker, and Scream was definitely the freshest take on a slasher film at that time.  But I knew of some earlier films that he had directed—1972’s The Last House on the Left being one of them—and had Netflix send me the few that they had available.  However, after watching Craven’s version of Last House, I didn’t care for it much and thought it was overly sadistic and too much of a 70s exploitation film for me to ever see again.

Well, cut to 2009 and it’s announced that The Last House on the Left is one of the many films on the remake chopping block (cue groans).  Of course, my first thought went to the original film and it gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, prompting me to ignore whatever trailer or TV spot that came on during commercials.  The movie came and went, going through its run in theaters and I thought nothing more of it until the film was available on home media.  Now, don’t get me wrong…I had a little bit of interest to see if the new film would be updated and acceptable for today’s audiences, but I just didn’t feel good about going to the theater to see a film about some girl who gets raped.  As soon as I had the DVD in hand, in the safety of my own home and without anyone judging me for what I was to watch on the screen (I even waited until the cover of darkness arrived and my wife was asleep in bed), I popped in the disc to watch The Last House on the Left.

The film is about a family—John (Tony Goldwyn), Emma (Monica Potter), and their daughter, Mari (Sara
Paxton)—spending the summer at their house in the woods.  Mari borrows the family SUV and goes out to meet her friend, Paige (Martha MacIsaac), at the general store in town where she works.  They meet a teenager named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) and go to the motel where he’s staying.  A while later, Justin’s father, Krug (Garret Dillahunt), his girlfriend, Sadie (Riki Lindhome), and Justin’s uncle, Francis (Aaron Paul), walk in and things get uncomfortable.  Seeing that they’re wanted criminals, they end up taking Mari’s parents’ SUV, along with Mari and Paige, to get away from the area…but things go bad really quick.

The bad thing about rape-revenge films, like I Spit on Your Grave (both the 1978 and 2010 versions) and 2009’s The Last House on the Left (as well as the 1972 version), is that it’s strange to commend the films and admit that you have admiration for them because it almost seems like you’re praising the sexual assault portions of the stories.  I’d mentioned, when I reviewed 2010’s I Spit on Your Grave, that it’s definitely hard to get through the debauchery, but the revenge portions of the films are always such great payoffs.  So, pretty much, that’s how this film plays out, but not as brutal as the original.  You might think that’s a good thing, and I agree that it is, after you see what happens to the characters of Mari and Paige.  But the revenge climax of the film is toned down as well and not as gleefully gory and extreme like the original film or the recent I Spit on Your Grave remake.

Overall, the movie is a good thriller and you’ll enjoy most of the film, although you’ll be uncomfortable during the rape scene—as well as the minutes leading to it.

If there’s anything I can complain about is how the characters of the antagonists were written.  Throughout the beginning and into the film, the three main baddies are set as the evil bunch they are, making sure to control any situation they’re in.  Newspapers and, I’m sure, television reports were exposing them as wanted by police and FBI for their crimes, so they were right (in their mind) not to trust anyone and to make sure no one will turn on them.  As they discover the girls in their motel room, they make sure they won’t go to the police by holding them hostage, and that makes sense for who they are.  However, my gripe is that when they go to Mari’s parents’ house in the woods, they trust that her parents haven’t heard about them and take their offer to spend the night in their guest quarters.  At this point in the movie, nothing stopped them from offing other people, so why let these people live when they could’ve easily killed them or, at least, tied them up or something?  But I guess it’s just a case where you suspend disbelief or just not think about it too much.

The movie plays out pretty much the same way the original had, so there’s really nothing new added here.  The only thing praiseworthy about the rehash of this story is that it was made more believably and not as stomach-churning as the ’72 flick.  It’s definitely a horror movie, but more of the real life kind with nothing supernatural going on.

Well, with all that said, let me give you my final “bit” on The Last House on the Left.

First the pros: The film is not as sick and twisted as the original version, so you may be able to watch this without feeling nauseous or ashamed of yourself.  With the well-known actors and actresses in the film, you may keep yourself grounded and know you’re simply watching a movie. 

And the cons: Simply stated, you’re going to witness something very uncomfortable before the vengeance is dealt. 

With all that said, to recommend this film to someone, I’d be reluctant to do so.  I’m definitely on the fence because it’s a well written and directed movie, filled with good performances throughout.  However, because of the violent nature of the film, one may see me as some psycho who loves sadism in film if I were to tell you that you should watch this movie.  So, hopefully you can read into that and choose as you see fit.

As a side “bit,” I’ll just say—without giving anything away—that the very end of the film is a little silly and I’m not so sure of the logistics involved to believe that it could happen.  But it was a cool little satisfying part to include in the flick.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

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