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Last House on the Left (2009)

dir: Dennis Illiades
[img_assist|nid=1121|title=Is there anyone else we can torment?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
The original horror flick does have a nasty reputation, which is certainly well-earned. Since everything is getting remade, from the Friday the 13th flicks, to Halloween, to Gone with the Wind, so naturally, Last House on the Left has to, nay, must be, remade too. On the most part, I would contend that the flick doesn’t do too bad a job for what it is. The ending, though, shows just how worthless the whole setup really was, and how it’s ultimately a lazy entry in both the revenge and nice white middle class people under siege in their own homes genres of quality filmmaking.

The original is a nasty, exploitative, vile flick. It truly is. This certainly isn’t, and for most of its running time actually seems like a highly charged drama more than an out-and-out horror flick. Of course it relies way too often on “someone comes out of nowhere to either attack or save a person that looks like they’re about to die”, but it’s virtually impossible for hacks to make these films otherwise.

A family, consisting of a doctor (Tony Goldwyn), tightly-wound mother (Monica Potter) and their teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton), go on holiday to their lovely house by the lake. The house is so lovely, it even has a guest house right next to it. And that guest house has a guest house, onwards to infinity like an unending sequence of Russian dolls.

No, that’s not entirely accurate. But they do have the lovely lakeside mansion, the rich bastards.

Mari, being a teenager, is bored by the prospect of having to spend any more time with her parents than she has to, so she elects to get away from them as soon as they get to their isolated river domain. She has a friend in town called Paige (Martha MacIsaac), who’s even dumber than she is.

That’s not fair. Mari’s a nice enough girl, and a swimming star! Whereas Paige is pretty dumb, and just wants to do exactly the teenage girl shit that drives parents to distraction.

Whilst all this whitebread set-up is going on, a criminal being transported by cops somehow manages to escape with the help of his equally moral challenged family. I wonder if this band of hardcore crims and the teenage girls are going to cross paths? What do you think? Wouldn’t be much of a revenge thriller if there’s nothing to get revenge for.

The essence of this story, and this remains as true here as it does in the original Last House, and even further back to its source material, allegedly being Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, is that a group of reprobates do something terrible to a girl/girls, and by dint of circumstance end up seeking refuge with the parents of the children they have brutally wronged. The revenge arises once the parents find out that their refugees have wronged them in such a horrendous way. In no version of the story do the parents rely on anyone else to mete out justice than themselves, whether it’s set during the Middle Ages, or in 2009.

Sure, the crims are scum, and sure their crimes are vile. There’s no tension to the story if they’re just shoplifters and check fraudsters. No, they’re the worst of the worst, and the flipside of the initial tension becomes the parent’s determination to punish the wrongdoers.

Look, you can take a completely ‘true crime’ approach to this kind of thing, you can go the cheesy exploitation route (which has become more common with recent horror flick remakes like the Hills Have Eyes and the Wrong Turn ones) which treats rape as just another titillating component of the whole horror mess, or you can go the whole dramatic, serious route and treat it like a serious story.

I would have thought that, wisely, the makers elect to go the dramatically serious route for most of the journey. I know this sounds absurd to anyone who’s seen the flick to whom it looks like every other piece of horror crap that usually comes out. It just feels a bit different in this instance. It actually felt like the characters were actually characters, and not just types and archetypes.

Not interesting characters per se, but characters all the same. At least that element elevates this above the Saw crap that keeps coming out annually, or the usual and empty stuff filling up the horror shelves at the local DVD rental store of your choice.

Let’s not kid ourselves: I know it’s all download this and torrent that, but the point still holds true.

Garret Dillahunt plays the leader of this sorry band of monsters, and he plays it with the blank sociopathy that typifies his acting career. He played a lethal Terminator in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, very well I might add. Here he plays a variation on something very similar, though he is far more sadistic. But he’s not for overplaying something that so easily lends itself to over-the-top performances.

He also has the fortunate or unfortunate characteristic of looking very reminiscent of another actor, being Peter Krause, who used to be one of the lead actors in the HBO series Six Feet Under. I mention this only because a lot of the time I’m looking at Dillahunt and thinking of him as Evil Nate.

He is going to be typecast as a monster for most of his career. He just has that kind of face that either looks blank or utterly evil with the simple shift of an expression or glance of the eyes. Even the way he says people’s names, with this tiny, creepy pause before finishing each sentence, is creepy.He was also in the series Deadwood, where he was so good they had him play two characters.

Not at the same time, of course. Here, he’s vile enough for four characters, but he just plays the one. His cronies are vile enough as well. In the first hour, which is devoted to their crimes, they prove to be people who earn our desire to see them pay the ultimate price.

I mean, let’s be serious. No-one watches these movies, who actually likes watching these kinds of movies, and clucks their tongue tut-tutting “Now, I know what these people did was wrong, but it’s not for individuals to take the law into their own hands. It’s all well and good for the fantasy to be played out like this on the big screen, but there’s no justification for vigilantism in a modern society etc etc”. The kinds of fuckers that bore other people with these kinds of querulous naysayings aren’t watching flicks like Last House on the Left. They’re watching documentaries on PBS / BBC / SBS, and listening to radio broadcasts about permaculture organic crop rotations in Uganda and other such fascinating media. Even when a flick like this tries to appeal to middle class people, giving them an outlet for their frustrations, and that frisson of fear that comes with contemplating what one would do put in such a situation, it’s only a sliver of even the middle class people represented who actually want this kind of wish fulfilling catharsis.

When the tense stuff starts up in the two lake houses, it’s pretty tense. Of course I was on the side of the righteous in their desperate attempt to both survive and get revenge, which is indistinguishable from their desire to survive as well. The difference is that in some of these flicks, you don’t care whether the ‘good’ guys survive or not, because they’re just as vile as their antagonists.

When, and there’s no other nice way to put this, the killings begin, they’re lurid and ridiculous, I have to admit. And the ultimate act of comeuppance as perpetrated by the good doctor, is so over the top that it’s beyond ludicrous, in fact it becomes cartoonish.

But you can’t say it’s not well-earned, if you’ll allow me the double negative.

The other interesting dynamic they create is between Krug, the lead psychopath, and his son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who is not on board with the family traditions of raping and killing at will, carried on even though they’ve left the Appalachian mountains, being Deliverance country, behind . Because of his passivity, we can never be sure who he’s going to side with, or whether he’s just not going to do anything at all.

You know, because the nice people are going to need all the help they can get. And all the microwaves, garbage disposals, hammers and guns aren’t going to do squat unless you have the will, the Nietschean will to take out the other fucker.

In order to achieve greatness, of course.

It’s not a great film, it might not even be a good film, but I enjoyed it, for what it’s worth. It was tense, it was mildly horrifying, and it ended the way these flicks are supposed to end.

Except, of course, for the very end, which is just too ridiculous for words

6 times I wonder if Garret Dillahunt is going to get to play anything but maniacs for the rest of his life out of 10

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“What are the odds?” – The Last House on the Left

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