Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter,
Sara Paxton, Spencer Treat Clark. Rated R.
If Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left was, as Roger Ebert
put it, “a tough, bitter little
sleeper of a movie that's about four times as good as you'd expect,” Dennis
Iliadis’ no-frills remake is roughly the same – slicker, perhaps, but no less
brutally effective. There are those who will find it repugnant, and others who
will be stunned silent by its raw graphic violence. Nobody ever said going to
the movies has to be fun.
While the low-budget original, which has become something of
a cult favorite among hardened horror fans, has an air of disquieting
authenticity thanks to its grainy, home movie-style footage and its shockingly
intimate portrayals of depravity, this latest version is a far handsomer
production. Is it more sanitized? Yes and no.
Craven, a first-time filmmaker when he unleashed Last
House on unsuspecting audiences in 1972,
earned overnight notoriety for the savagery he depicted in unflinching detail.
Here, Iliadis (2004’s Hardcore)
seems more restrained, but he allows his camera to linger on a series of images
– knives plunging into a girl’s stomach, blood spurting from gaping gashes –
that are equally disturbing, and far from stylized.
Those who remember the original or the film that inspired
it, Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring,
should be familiar enough with the story, which has been tweaked ever so
slightly by screenwriters Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye) and Adam Alleca. A gang of
kidnaps and tortures two teenage girls, killing one and leaving the other for
dead after a vicious rape. Through an extraordinary circumstance – even the
gang’s Manson-esque leader (Garret Dillahunt) seems dumbfounded by their
misfortune – they wind up taking refuge for the night in the home of one of the
From there, Last House on the Left escalates into a breathlessly
paced revenge fantasy,
as the parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) discover the fugitives’ secret
and hunt them down in appropriately messy fashion. There is a certain cathartic
thrill in witnessing the gang’s bloody comeuppance, and Iliadis’ long takes and
sparing use of dialogue lend themselves to an unbearably tense atmosphere that
he’s able to sustain throughout. But as effective as his technique may be, this
isn’t entertainment for everyone.
There is an audience for movies like Last House on the
Left, as this past weekend’s box-office
receipts will attest, but few will take much pleasure from it. It presents
sadism in the context of a narrative that is straightforward and believable,
and for those who crave a little terror in their lives, it offers a truly
unsettling experience while raising questions mundane and otherwise. (Can a
malfunctioning microwave operate with the door open?) For the faint of heart,
though, it may be an experience wisely avoided.