The Last House on the Left Points Out a Sick Audience

The Last House on the Left. 2009. Directed by Dennis Iliadis. Screenplay by Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth; based on the original film of the same name by Wes Craven.
Starring Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn, Martha MacIsaac, & Spencer Treat Clark. Crystal Lake Entertainment/Rogue Pictures/Scion Films.
Rated R. 114 minutes.

Let’s start with this: I’m a huge fan of the original Wes Craven film. At the same time, I have trouble with the rape-revenge sub-genre. I’m not opposed to the stories, as these types of things can happen in real life. It isn’t fantastical horror like supernatural stories you see. Even in all its madness, The Last House on the Left is a realistic piece of fiction. But Craven’s way of presenting such angry, hateful violence had a certain touch, one that both made police out to be incompetent and simultaneously advocated for personal revenge. Now, there isn’t a ton changed from the original, except director Dennis Iliadis – a talented filmmaker – opts for a thoroughly more ugly, gritty tone than the first from Craven. While that one was absolutely grim, Craven’s choice of score and soundtrack, as well as his focus on the goofy policemen fucking up helped to give the horrific atmosphere some levity. If only for a brief amount of time.
This 2009 remake is much less interesting to me. I dig dark and dangerous movies, and I’m not opposed to the rape-revenge sub-genre as a whole. Stuff like Irréversible, in all its hideous glory, is much poignant than this could ever be, at least introducing a different aspect than all the other similar movies out there trying to exploit rape as a mere plot device. We get lots of nasty horror here, though the rape scene is intensified to maximum effect here really pushing us into uncomfortable territory. Most of all, I don’t feel this movie needs to be pushing two hours at 114 minutes on the Unrated version. Craven’s movie was around 84 minutes. It was brutish and to the point. This one seems to wander around the point a little too long. Furthermore, there’s nothing here which feels like the extended length is warranted. There’s an attempt at showing more of the relationship between murderous father and innocent son, yet even that doesn’t feel enough. With a host of solid performances, this could and should have been better. Somehow the script doesn’t bring any of the ingenuity of Craven, instead opting to replace it with a full ride on the shock horror express.
What I enjoy most is the revenge. And yes, most people come for that. I simply don’t believe it’s necessary wholly to show such a graphic rape in order to have the revenge be as satisfying.
But perhaps this is what Iliadis and the writers hoped to do, as a comment on how we engage with these types of films. By showing the scene and having people react that it’s necessary in order to enjoy the revenge of the parents later on, maybe Iliadis is challenging our notions of what it is to experience one of these stories onscreen. Some are so unsatisfied without the actual physical act of rape that other, more subtle movies seemingly pay the price (the incredible Felt for instance). Here, fans of the film are consistent in that they feel the long assault here justifies how much we can enjoy the revenge. For me, I’d be much happier never seeing the rape, only having it as part of the dialogue and the story moving forward, then only witnessing the revenge. Essentially, movies like The Last House on the Left in this iteration specifically mould us into believing the act must be scene, must be heard, or else the victim’s plight is less serious. However, if we get to watch it and see what happens, then the audience seems happier about witnessing the other side. That’s sort of really sick.
I do love the performances. Immediately, Sara Paxton makes the character of Mary into an interesting one. She’s likely the most poignant part of the entire film. That’s one major improvement from the original film is that Mary feels like a fleshed out character instead of a victim (even though I still love that movie). But I love the whole setup where Mary ends up swimming the lake for her life, juxtaposed with earlier when she was simply swimming to train. Great parallel in the writing. Where the screenplay falters in other places, some of the character work is definitely impressive.
Added to that, I do find the parents interesting, and they also get to indulge their revenge much like the wild actions of those in the original. Moreover, Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter are undeniably perfect. They play the fear and desperation of the parents well, as do they express the hate of their revenge evenly alongside the violence. The most emotional moment for me is when John (Goldwyn), a doctor, is trying to help his daughter after they discover her bruised and broken on the porch; after he takes care of the bullet, he finds that she’s been raped and just the look in his eyes speaks volumes. Goldwyn and Potter each don’t get enough credit, though here they do a fine job proving themselves. Sometimes husbands and wives don’t exactly feel natural on film, these two do and it makes their family crisis that much more excruciating. Also, the screenplay gives us another aspect of this family having already lost the son, so there’s this stronger than usual fight in them to save their remaining child.
Both Aaron Paul and Garret Dillahunt are chilling in their own respects. Paul is definitely the physically smaller of the two devious brothers. But that’s got nothing to do with his craziness. He really makes Francis into a psychotic that you’d not expect to be so wild. At the same time, though, Dillahunt’s Krug is mortifying. I mean aside from the rape itself he’s still a scary dude. He’s a big guy, yet it’s how he holds himself so quiet and composed until it gets down to dirty business. Then he becomes a whole other monster. So having these two villainous guys up against the righteous parents is a lot of fun, and particularly for the fact Dillahunt gives us a memorable villain instead of trying to copy what David Hess did for Craven in ’72. Dillahunt makes Krug his own instead of using his talents as mere homage, which is too often what others do when taking on an iconic horror villain. For all its fault, this remake has solid actors involved. That covers up a few blemishes.
There are some writing touches I do enjoy – from Sadie’s brief sadness over what Krug did to Mary after he pulls himself off her, to the slightly expanded relationship between Krug and his son Justin. I also thought the revenge at the end and the whole climactic fight between criminals and parents was well played, all around a solid sequence. However, there feels like something is missing. Some component which Craven had in his original that Iliadis and the writers can’t seem to capture. Sure, they ramp up the gore and the nastiness, including an awfully unnecessarily lengthy rape scene. But does that make a good horror? Not when The Last House on the Left is ripe with thematic material and subject matter to turn into something better than just your average rape-revenge sub-genre picture. They could’ve done more, and from a director like Iliadis I’d hoped there might be a better offering judging on his previous work. I hope to see more solid work out of him in the future. This remake just doesn’t hit its mark.

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