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Non-Review Review: Last House on the Left (2009)

Wes Craven is a very odd man. On one hand, you have the luminary who gave us the breathtakingly original slants on the horror movie which we saw in A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare and the Scream franchise, along with his talent as a straight-forward thriller director in Red Eye. On the other hand you have the king of schlock, the man behind pointless gore fests like the original Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes or even Dracula 2000. And, on a third severed hand you’d probably find lying around his trailer somewhere, you have the Wes Craven who wholeheartedly approves and supports schlokier remakes of his schlokiest films. Like this, the remake of Last House on the Left.

lasthouse

The only thing to fear is the quality of the movie itself...

Remember a few weeks back when I suggested that I was uncomfortable with slashers as an inherently sexist and misogynistic genre? Well, my opinion certainly hasn’t changed much. This time around the daughter is allowed to survive her beating and her rape (her friend is not so lucky), but not so that she can become a character in her own right. According to the director, it’s so there can be a ‘clicking clock’ element to the following revenger sequence. That I had to read about that intended effect (rather than determining it myself) suggests how successful the film is at pushing that aspect of the drama.

Again, the daughter is a powerless figure who calls upon her father to protect her – because men are just better at that then weak, inferior women who exist purely to be objectified, right? You might make the case that the mother is involved in the revenge – but it isn’t an equal opportunities engagement. The mother is forced to exact a quick and brutal revenge on one of the three, but more out of panic than calculation or decisiveness. Even then, it takes her husband to finish off that member of the party. I hope I spoil nothing by observing that the mother in this movie kills none of the three fiends responsible for brutalising her daughter, leaving the killing to her husband.

But that’s enough of the underlying themes which I am uncomfortable with (and yes, most of them focus around the portrayal of female characters – the daughter is presented as a sex object to the audience in a bikini before the attack takes place). I’m doubt that being a well-produced and directed thriller or horror could fully counter my unease at those notions, but it’s a bit of a moot point – the film simply doesn’t work as drama, thriller or horror. On a strictly visceral level, we know that the daughter will be attacked in order to set in motion the revenge saga that the film has been advertised as. The director holds that element until more than half-way through. So we know that it’s going to happen and that the three fugitives are going to end up at her parents’ house, so there’s no suspense. Maybe there could be, in the hands of a more capable director, but there isn’t here.

Even once we move past that first half, which really only succeeds in making a rape sequence uncomfortable (which, being honest, shouldn’t be too difficult to manage), the film never really sells itself as either a study of parental guilt and protectiveness or as a rip-roaring rampage of revenge. I’m not sure which one of the two it intended to be, but it ended up being neither. Instead we get a lame paint-by-numbers finale with a few bits of gore tossed in (and some awful CGI which manages to wreck what little mood the film has generated), where we know pretty much what is going to happen because we’ve seen it all before – not even in the original film, but in any number of inferior hunter/stalker films over the years. This has nothing new or insightful to add to the genre as a whole.

The production itself is less than stellar, even by the standards of the slasher/gore/revenge genre. The film quality isn’t the highest, nor are the performers. It looks like it was made for television, to be brutally honest. The music is passable – if highly derivative – and the make-up is actually quite good (particularly in the open sequence, if gory makeup is your thing).

I know what the film is intended to appeal to (or exploit, depending on how kind you are). Adults do fear for their children – perhaps even more than when the original film was made. There is certainly fertile ground here for dramatic exploration – just as The Brave One explored personal victimisation in a mature fashion, for example. The problem is that there is nothing mature about this film – it’s pure exploitation.

Do yourself a favour and keep on driving.

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