Of all the reviews posted so far, this one has been the most anxiety ridden. Having seen the original Wes Craven film, The Last House on the Left (1972), already knew what I was in for. This is the story of rape and brutality towards women and the parental revenge that comes of it.
As I have gotten older, the thought of rape and torture is harder to watch. Violence against women happens all of the time in slasher movies, but there is something theatrical about it in that context. The Wes Craven film, The Last House on the Left (1972), is more like pornography. It is explicitly designed to evoke feelings at the most foundational level of our being. But, even pornography can blur with art.
Wes Craven, The Old And The New
Wes Craven asked for the benefit of the doubt with his cinema vérité approach on 1972 film. If its goal was to make me feel empty inside, it was successful at that. Was it art? Maybe, but I am not sure I cared for it. The Last House on the Left (2009) is a refreshed take on the subject. I was pleasantly surprised that Wes Craven was active in the production of the 2009 film, but also skeptical that he had anything new to say on the matter. Given a modern budget and Hollywood’s penchant for physical violence and gore, I was still a bit concerned for what I signed up for.
The Last House on the Left – A Bad Guy Named Krug
A criminal named Krug (Garret Dillahunt), is being transported to prison. By ramming the police transport, Krug’s girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome), Brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and Son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) break him out. During the break out, we get a dose of how depraved Krug is as he holds a photo of a policeman’s children in front of his eyes as they strangle the life from him.
Portrait of an American Family
John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma Collingwood (Monica Potter) have a daughter named Mari (Sara Paxton). Mari is a competitive swimmer, which I suspect becomes important to her survival at some point. There is a subtext of a brother, Ben, that died prior to the events of this film. Apart from their loss, they are a model upper class family.
They head to their lake house for a vacation weekend. Mari sees a friend at the lake named Paige (Martha MacIsaac). Paige and Mari encounter Justin in the convenience store that she works. Justin thumbs through bloody cash stolen during the jailbreak. Offering to sell Paige marijuana, they take Justin to the motel he is staying at. Krug is not pleased to find Justin and the girls in their room.
Krug and the crew steal Mari’s SUV and take the girls hostage. The ride is tense and suspenseful. Mari attacks Sadie with a cigarette lighter and tries to jump out of the truck causing a crash. It is uncertain what the girls fortunes would have been had they complied, but the stakes go up ten-fold after the crash. Paige tries to run for it. Just before she is able to find help, Francis and Sadie run her down and drag her back.
Krug then demands that a resistant Justin rape one of them. When Paige calls them pathetic, Krug and Francis slowly stab her several times. While Paige bleeds to death, Mari is raped. Not ready to give up, Mari smashes Krug’s skull with a rock and makes a run for it. She finds the lake and is able to make her escape using her swimming skills, but not before Krug puts a bullet in her back.
Seeking Shelter at The Last House on the Left
A torrential thunderstorm forces the gang to look for shelter. The Collingwoods hear a knock at the door and find Krug and his gang on the porch. They are completely unaware of the horrors that they committed on Mari and Paige. John, does his best with limited supplies to repair their wounds.
The Collingwoods invite Krug and gang to stay in the guesthouse. Mari, still alive, struggles to make her way home. John and Emma find her on the porch, knocking on death’s door. John does what he can to stabilize her. Slowly the realization sets in that her attackers are in the guest house.
How the Turns Table
This is where the balance of power shifts. Mari lies on a table, clinging to life. Emma and John know who the enemy is, and the enemy is unaware that the tables have turned. John and Emma go on a brutality tour, getting revenge on the people that hurt her daughter.
The Last House on the Left – Surprisingly Effective
I found myself surprised at the effectiveness of The Last House on the Left (2009). Undoubtedly, the scenes involving Mari and Paige were as hard to watch as ever, but they weren’t markedly worse than in the original film directed by Wes Craven. In fact, this film did a much better job using suspense to drive the events instead of violence.
The director dials up the brutality directed at Krug and his cohorts considerably. The Collingwoods bury a claw hammer in Francis’ head as his hand grinds to hamburger in the garbage disposal. As satisfying as this sounds, it feels like acrobatics and actually detracts from the realism. The film ends with a final blow to Krug that strains credibility.
The on-going dynamic between Justin and his family culminates in a mutiny that ultimately does Krug in. Spencer Treat Clark does a tremendous job of playing the empathetic kid that really doesn’t want to be a part of any of this. Aaron Paul’s is very disturbing as Francis. Krug is maniacal, calculating and willing to do dirt to survive. Francis is just dark, and he obviously loves it.
The Last Opinion on the Left
Overall, I found myself carefully enjoying much of this film. Ultimately, I do think that it does itself a disservice. After watching the events unfold on Paige and Mari, there is not a man in theater that isn’t wondering what he would do if given that situation. Violence is absolutely part of that equation, but the events that unfold are ridiculous.
This film did do a really good job of creating tension. The scene in the motel room was reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. When Krug, Francis and Sadie arrive at the motel, there is no doubt that the girls are in serious trouble.
There were many opportunities to capitalize on suffering of Paige and Mari, but the film manages not to fall down the dark hole of torture porn. That is not to say that it isn’t unsettling, but it could have been much worse. I am not certain that The Last House on the Left (2009) deserves the label cinema vérité. It’s brutal for sure, but the stark realism defined by the cinema vérité style seems to have given way to a more polished and modern style.
I am not sure that I needed this remake to be honest. To be honest, it is surprising that Wes Craven thought it needed to be made. Now that I have seen it, my anxiety proved mostly unfounded. The bottom line is that The Last House on the Left (2009) isn’t a classic and it isn’t groundbreaking. It is just another violent movie that managed to keep its integrity together enough to be watchable. I can now shift my anxiety to the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.
The Last House on the Left (2009) - Uncut - Malevolent Dark
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Date Created: 2009-01-01 00:00