THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009)
Starring Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac, Aaron Paul, Riki Lindhome and Joshua Cox.
Screenplay by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth.
Directed by Dennis Iliadis.
Distributed by Rogue Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated R.
Yet another horror classic from my childhood is being remade. I can’t say how faithful The Last House on the Left is to the classic 70s Wes Craven film, frankly because I never saw when the original film.
I will say that the new film is a scary and troubling suburban nightmare that takes a disturbing hold on you but eventually goes just a hair too far.
It exploits a very basic nightmare. A couple and their teen daughter are on holiday at a remote vacation cabin when their lives intersect violently with a group of homicidal refugees.
It is all loosely based on an old folk song – and more specifically the original storyline is a very loose interpretation of Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film The Virgin Spring. However, where Bergman’s movie looked at the dark side and moral and ethical cost of vengeance, in the new Last House there is more of a “family-values” sense of black and white entitlement. You fuck with my family, we’re gonna make you hurt…
The Last House on the Left is essentially broken down into two parts. The first part has a teenaged girl (Sara Paxton) and a friend (Martha MacIsaac) meeting a guy who offers to get them some pot, and then being captured, raped and left for dead by the kid’s crazy family – led by a sociopathic escaped convict named Krug (Garret Dillahunt).
The second half of the film has the convict and his crew having to stay with a doctor (Tony Goldwyn) and his wife (Monica Potter) during a torrential storm, only to eventually realize that this couple were the parents of one of their victims. When the parents find their badly injured daughter and realize that their visitors were responsible, they decide to take revenge on the killers.
Much of this is very disturbing but at the same time works as a look at the heart of darkness. Particularly effective – for better or worse – are the scenes where Paxton and MacIsaac are tormented by the killers. It is violent, ugly, evil, hard to take and undeniably horrifying.
The later scenes, where the Goldwyn and Potter take on their daughter’s attackers, are more cartoonish and commonplace horror stuff, but it is done with style and verve.
One reason the film works well is the fact that this film is very well-cast for a horror film. Goldwyn, Paxton, MacIsaac, Dillahunt and Potter are all extremely good actors. (It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Potter was playing the woman in distress herself, it’s a bit of a shame seeing her relegated to playing the victim’s mother.) Perhaps these actors are a little too technically good for a film of this type, but the quality cast gives the film even more gravity than a typical scream-fest.
The movie is actually surprisingly suspenseful through the great majority of the running time… which makes the last few minutes doubly disappointing.
Unfortunately, at the very end, the filmmakers take things two steps too far. They had a perfectly satisfactory ending to the film. The bad guys were taken care of and order had been returned to their lives somewhat, however the filmmakers felt the need to tag on a coda which just makes the doctor seem every bit as sadistic and evil as the criminals. This is shown when the doctor doles out two more acts of punishment. I’d have even gone with the along with the first added act of vengeance. While perhaps a bit harsh, it actually kind of worked in the storyline. The doctor had used his skills to dole out retribution.
I won’t tell you what the doctor does to get that retribution – nor how he followed it up – for fear of spoiling the surprise. Let’s just say that the payback was taken even one step farther in a sequence that involves a household appliance. It is a variation of an old urban legend, but it is also unnecessary and rather cruel and disgusting. More to the point, from my understanding of that type of appliance, I do not believe that it would physically be able to work in that manner. (I can’t go into more detail without giving the plot twist up, but when you see the movie, you will know what I mean.) Let’s just say that a very basic safety measure of the machine seems to be just ignored in this shot.
This ending doesn’t ruin The Last House on the Left, but it does leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth on the way back up the aisle. It seems gratuitous and unnecessary and sort of saps the well-earned sense of closure that the filmmakers had already earned.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 19, 2009.