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Review

Remake of ‘Last House on the Left’ falls short of original movie

José Cruz Jr.

March 26, 2009

The sea of mediocrity that is Hollywood knows how to run good ideas and stories into the ground. By the improper use of sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and knock/spin/rip-offs, the mainstream filmmaking machine rehashes the same concepts and storylines repeatedly. So naturally, there is a niche for films that transcend regular and conventional filmmaking by breaking cinematic grounds or gaining notice with shock value. The updated version of “Last House on the Left” does little to emulate or live up to the original’s notoriety that was achieved outside of Hollywood.

The film opens with two policemen escorting a convicted criminal, named Krug (Garret Dillahunt), to an infamous prison. But his fellow deviants ambush the police car, setting Krug free. Elsewhere, Mari (Sara Paxton) and her parents return to their summer home in the woods (like many other horror movies) approximately two years after her brother died. After meeting up with a local friend, Paige (Martha MacIsaac), they follow a sketchy teenager to his motel room for some pot. While giving the poor kid a “makeover,” Krug and his two partners-in-crime barge in and take the frightened young women for a ride. The three continue to beat and harass them, ultimately leaving them for dead. After being unable to get transportation out of town, they happen to stop at Mari’s summer home, in which the parents take them in as guests. It is discovered that the trio performed questionable acts on their daughter, and take it upon themselves to exercise vengeance. 

Now, time for a little history. The premise of parents getting revenge for their child’s murder was first executed in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring.” Twelve years after its release, horror icon (arguable) Wes Craven made “Last House on the Left,” which has been censored and banned in various forms and places due to depictions of graphic violence and rape. It was unofficially remade several years ago, by former wrestler David DeFalco, in the form of the nihilistic and trashy film that is “Chaos.”

Finally, we have the fourth rehash at hand that is not as brutal as its predecessors. While the Wes Craven version was shot in a documentary-style, hand-held and grainy, the update is very polished over, with little of its own style to create uneasiness. It becomes a standard horror flick, with nothing all that shocking or graphic to speak of, that diehard gore hounds have not seen before. Also, the original had a sense of irony, as intense and violent scenes had soft acoustic music in the background. Here, the tone is at one of three levels: expositional ennui, suspense and terror. There is no comic relief or letting up here; even when the two teens are talking about smoking weed there is an atmosphere of doom. 

An area where this film excels and fails simultaneously is its suspense. The first “Last House” had little suspense, only showing up when the scene called for it. But here, it relies heavily on suspense and uses it to replace brutality. Suspense in a horror film is perfectly fine and should be mandatory. But the movie is saturated in it, as the scenes never measure up to the build-up and leave you unsatisfied.

Mentioning anything else about the film would lead to spoilers (I’m thinking about you, my dear readers). Many people know what will happen, and that is the challenge bestowed upon those looking to remake a film. Anyone that has seen the original knows what to expect, but at the same time anticipates the effect that Wes Craven’s had. I have never really considered his film to be a good one, but at least it was memorable in a strange way. I cannot say the same for 2009’s version, as it is pretty mediocre and tame.

2 stars out of 5

José Cruz Jr. is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

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