The Last House on the Left

Movies Reviews Dennis Iliadis
The Last House on the Left

Release Date: March 13

Director: Dennis Iliadis

Writers: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth

Cinematographer: Sharone Meir

Starring: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul, Martha MacIsaac

Studio/Run Time: Rogue, 100 mins.

Fearsomely brutal film does what it sets out to do, but then what?

The Last House on the Left is so unrepentantly depraved thatit will elicit the kind of straight-laced reactionary furor normally reserved for hip-hop anthems and video games. Luckily, that’s precisely what it’s designed to do. The movie has two sections, both direct and merciless. In the first, two teenage girls encounter a sadistic gang who, um, declines to let them go. The second cuts to later that night with one of the girls’ parents, who unknowingly welcome their daughter’s attackers into the family cabin during a heavy storm, proceed to discover what they’ve done and devise nasty ways to send them into the next life.

Inspired, yes, by the same mythos parsed in Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven’s 1972 original lends its framework to this sleek new studio version on most (but not all) accounts. The new movie, directed by Dennis Iliadis, has the added benefit that it actually makes sense, with a crucial plot difference that helps the two parts cohere more smoothly and makes the parents’ response at least somewhat more rational.

That isn’t to diminish the original. Last House was Craven’s debut feature, made for noticeably little money and no audience in particular. His central conceit was to unleash chaos on the traditional family—which, at the height of American social disorder and Vietnam, added real verve and provided a vague mission for the movie even as it shed any pretense of sense or civility.

Iliadis, with a more comfortable budget and professional cast, both amplifies that horror and renders it much less potent. This Last House is effective on a base level, with volatile sequences of violence and the original’s notorious rape scene replicated in excruciating detail. Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter give subdued, canny performances as the parents, and as with the remake of another Craven exploitation flick, Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes, the movie as a whole is a considerable formal upgrade.

The original’s widely censored violence makes an unabashed comeback here as well, but the question to ask of a movie like this is not how far it goes but how it is framed. The film forcefully interrogates an audience that delights in sporadic outbursts of violence through sustained sequences that never crack a smile or cut away. The images are repulsive, but they are emotional and unadorned. The film’s gesture of brilliance comes with the parents’ revenge, which is as hard to watch as the acts that inspired it; it’s just as sick and remorseless. There’s never a moment of release. (Unlike in the 1972 movie, the sexual violence is not reciprocated, one of the few places this film backs down.)

That said, as it stands, Iliadis’ movie is more a thriller about family ties taken to unimaginable extremes than an attempt to engage with any real subtext. That doesn’t make its superlative exercise in sadism any less effective, but it does raise a question of necessity. Here, the technical upgrade oddly seems to strip this grim parable of any real reason to press the buttons it does. Times have changed, and to adapt this framework exclusively on a formal level, without any new impetus to explore the story, doesn’t make much sense. The Last House on the Left is not “useless,” as early detractors have declared, but it’s finally more superficial than its rigorous intensity suggests.

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