Friday, March 13, 2009
Movie review: Last House on the Left
So, these two families of killers meet in the woods...
I can't say anything bad about the moviemaking on display in the remake of Wes Craven's seminal 1972 shock pic, The Last House on the Left. Director Dennis Iliadis has crafted a very effective thriller, with plenty of unexpected blindside encounters, a coherent (if somewhat far-fetched) plot and better-than-might-be-expected character development - particularly if you look upon the players' reactions to brutality in extremis as "development."
What I will say is that one has to wonder why a movie amounting to violence porn really needs to have been made. Or remade. I mean, aside from the profit potential.
And I suppose there is that, because just the act of my reporting that this is the most gut-wrenching, squirm-inducing piece of - ah - cinema that I've seen in a long, long time will probably be enough to turn some turnstiles. Just be aware that there are no pulled punches in the film, which chronicles (in graphic detail) the brutal rape of a 17-year-old girl and several equally brutal murders. At the preview screening, a couple of adult patrons got up and left the theater during the rape scene, and probably not because they had developed a sudden craving for popcorn. The fact that this film is rated "R" by the MPAA seems to be clear evidence that it's impossible for a movie to get the NC-17 rating based on violence.
But perhaps I wax too reflective, given that this is intended to be a shock-inducing fright flick and that most of those who end up attending are likely to be either teenagers out for a queasy date night thrill or horror show fanatics looking to see how they handled that rock-hammer-through-the-head scene; my concern is mostly for those few poor souls who might stumble into the theater unaware of the demeaning, disgusting and mean-spirited series of events that are about to play out in front of them.
There's very little wit or subtlety at play in Last House, but here's one bit: the entire horrifying series of events endured by the Collingwood family can be boiled down to a validation of the evils of pot smoking. Because it's as a result of Paige's (Martha MacIsaac) cannabis craving that she and visiting girlfriend Mari (Sara Paxton) find themselves cornered in a motel room at the mercy of a family of cold-blooded killers. (Who have none. Mercy, I mean. They do have some pot. So there's that.)
Mari has just gotten together with her old frield Paige to celebrate her summer break arrival in the boondocks of the Pacific Northwest (with - incredibly - South Africa standing in, to convincing effect). Mari's mom and dad - played by Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter (as John and Emma) - have stayed behind at their lakeside vacation house to enjoy a quiet dinner alone, with wine and nookie on the agenda. At the invitation of a seemingly innocuous teenage boy who she catches red-handed trying to secrete some Slim Jims under his jacket, Paige closes up the convenience store and gets Mari to follow her to the young man's motel room. Because he (baby-faced, blue-eyed Spencer Treat Clark, as Justin) claims to have some really crazy shit there.
To cut to the chase (quite literally), Mari is able to escape (after being - as mentioned - brutally raped) and makes her way to the lakeshore, where her swimming skills provide her with a real chance of eluding the bracketing .45 slugs that evil leader Krug (Garret Dillahunt) launches in her direction. If she can just make it around that last rocky outcrop, Mari will be free and clear. D'OH!
What follows is a kind of hindbrain-centered, vengeance-motivated morality play which finds John and Emma taking in the very villains who have (unbeknownst to them) molested and shot their daughter, operating under the assumption that their car crashed out in the woods somewhere nearby. But the fog of ignorance covers both family units, as the murdering scum crew are likewise unaware that these hospitable middle-aged vacationers are the parents of the girl they just brutalized.
Thus begins a little game we like to call "who will find out first - and when they do, what will they do about it?"
In the grand manner of such revenge dramas, we (the audience) find ourselves cheering on the gruesome action as the table-turning commences. Pretty soon we're seeing knives plunged into bad guys' bodies, hands ground up in garbage disposals and - as referenced earlier - a rock hammer (or is it a tile setter's hammer?) embedded in a head. The camera never flinches, though you may wish it had.
All this might be considered bonus carnage, because it occurs AFTER the scene in which John - a doctor by profession - performs grisly closeup facial surgery on Frank (Aaron Paul), and then uses a hot knife to cauterize a bullet wound. Thankfully, the theater is not equipped with smell-o-vision.
Can't wait to see what kind of special features they put on the DVD.
A performance that demands mention is that of Riki Lindhome as Krug's "gun moll," Sadie. Ms. Lindhome was last seen as the sadistic, rubber-gloved cavity examination nurse in Clint Eastwood's Changeling. In this film she exploits her naturally sinister appearance to generate a quite convincing level of threat. There ought to be a cavalcade of villainess roles in her future, if she wants them.
SHE SAID, MARKING HERSELF FOR CERTAIN AND IMMINENT DEATH: "One joint won't hurt you." - Paige
MIGHTY ALTRUISTIC OF YOU, DAD: "You gotta start puttin' other people's needs ahead of your own." - Krug, to Justin
SURPRISINGLY, NOT A QUOTE FROM THE FILMMAKER'S ORIENTATION SESSION: "We have to be ready to do ... ANYTHING." - John, to Emma