The Last House on the Left
After kidnapping and brutally assaulting two young women, a gang led by a prison escapee unknowingly finds refuge at a vacation home belonging the parents of one of the victims—a mother and father who devise an increasingly gruesome series of revenge tactics.
A hot-button topic in the horror community from the minute it was announced, the 2009 remake of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham’s controversial Last House on the Left will undoubtedly leave audiences polarized in regard to both its treatment of the source material and its level of violence. As with the original film, which drew inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (and was itself based on 13th century Scandinavian legend), director Dennis Illadis’ film traces the downward spiral of two teenage girls (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac from Superbad) who fall prey to a quartet of degenerates. The perpetrators then seek refuge in a nearby vacation home—which happens to be occupied by Paxton’s parents. Both versions spare no quarter in detailing the torments inflicted on the two girls, as well as the ruthlessly efficient revenge metered out to the killers by the parents; the difference, however, lies with the intent. Craven and Cunningham (who serve as executive producers for the remake) sought to shock Nixon/Vietnam-era audiences by showing the limits to which the “average” citizen could be pushed by violent acts; Illadis, however, is simply content to deliver a glossy, overamped thriller that neither delights in nor condemns the atrocities committed by its characters. The result is a flat, often tedious exercise in nihilism buoyed only by its cast, especially Paxton, Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter as her parents, and Garrett Dillahunt (No Country for Old Men) as the malevolent leader of the depraved foursome. Fans of the original need not bother with this version; newcomers should seek out Craven’s version, which has lost none of its power to overwhelm. —Paul Gaita
The legendarily scuzzy 1972 shocker Last House on the Left gets all dressed up in this slick remake, which retro-fits the original storyline to an isolated lakeside cabin. This time out, unsuspecting teen Mari (Sara Paxton) makes the crucial mistake of going to buy some weed at a rundown motel room with a stranger (Spencer Treat Clark). It must have sounded like a good idea at the time. Soon Mari and her pal (Martha MacIsaac) are confronted by the stranger’s diseased posse, and the real trouble begins. The set-up of the 1972 picture, which director Wes Craven borrowed from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, is a blunt exercise in brutality followed by revenge, the twist being that the revenge is as savage as the initial transgression. This structure remains in the remake, although a few key plot points are changed, with little improvement. Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn play Mari’s parents, who at some point will be called upon to put aside their merlot and their civilized constraints and get to it; Garret Dillahunt, coming off his strong work in Deadwood and No Country for Old Men, is far too qualified to be playing the stock role of the creep-in-chief. There is something distinctly strange about watching a film that took much of its original power from its cheapness, an outlaw energy that is completely lost in this dressed-up, professionally made remake. Here the scenes of rape and murder are presented not as pulpy shouts from the subculture but as necessary ingredients in a respectable machinery, which somehow makes them more dispiriting and unpleasant to watch. That this film is a technical advance on the original film on every level—acting, writing, photography—does not make it a better film. —Robert Horton