The Last House on the Left
Directed by Dennis Iliadis. Starring Garret Dillahunt, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn, Sara Paxton, Martha MacIsaac. (2009, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 20, 2009
Now that Hollywood's remake machine has gotten around to neutering Wes Craven's seminal 1972 familial-vengeance-as-proxy-for-Vietnam-outrage horror show, the industry can move on to more important projects like, say, updating the oeuvre of recently deceased Ray Dennis Steckler. (Seriously: What couldn't Charlie Kaufman do with The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies?) Craven's The Last House on the Left was itself loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, which in turn was inspired by a historical event which occurred in Sweden in the 14th century. Still, cinematic lineage is not at the fore of Iliadis' House. He's more concerned with cranking out suspense by the dollop (which often works), and upper-middle-class moralizing (which doesn't work at all). The script, by Adam Alleca and Disturbia scribe Carl Ellsworth, hews fairly closely to Craven's original (both Craven and son Jonathan have producing credits here), but the act of morally repugnant retribution that drives the story, while essentially timeless, seems devoid of meaning in an age in which anyone can download footage of Middle East atrocities from YouTube anytime one feels the urge to soak his or her psyche in the absolute worst of man's inhumanity to man. Goldwyn and Potter are well-cast as John and Emma Collingwood, the parents of Mari (Paxton), who, along with friend Paige (MacIsaac), is brutally raped and then left for dead by a quartet of psychopathic killers led by escaped con Krug (Dillahunt). Krug and company later take unwitting refuge in the Collingwoods' lake house, but it's not long before Mom and Dad discover the horrific truth behind their house guests from hell and exact equally brutal revenge. Well shot throughout (one shot of a blood-red boathouse is particularly arresting) and edited with an eye on the clock as opposed to the body count, The Last House on the Left is perfectly adequate as a contemporary home-life-invasion film but also utterly devoid of the gag-inducing visceral sadism of the original, a film that was very much of its time. This House makes no notable statement other than the standard "violence begets violence," which, let's face it, is so ancient a truism as to be one of the Ten Commandments. So, why remake Craven's original at all? Oh, yeah, I forgot: Reheated depravity sells. To avoid existential despair, keep repeating: It's only a remake; it's only a remake; it's only a remake.