Review: Last House on the Left
PLOT: Mari is a young girl who has turned her life around since being a trouble making, pot smoking teenager. Yet after her and her family survive the death of her brother, they seem to be struggling to hold on to each other. But things go from bad to worse as Mari decides to hang out with her old friend Paige while on a family vacation, just to get away from her mother and father. The two girls soon fall into the hands of Krug, a recently escaped convict and his gang of misfits. During that time, the girls are brutalized and left for dead. Once Krug and his cronies think that both of the young ladies are no longer a problem, they happen upon Mariís home after their car breaks down and they are stranded. And once her parents realize all that has happened and exactly who these baddies are, they take it upon themselves and decide what to do about their unwanted guests.
My early memories of watching Wes Cravenís THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT are pretty clear. It was a cheap VHS copy and it made the already low-budget looking film even more grainy and raw. Although on my first viewing, I wasnít terribly impressed as I was a kid raised on Eighties Slasher flicks and this was something different. But as I grew up a little and faced my late teens, I revisited the film and realized the power of it. That sense of dread, that was only slightly disrupted by the dimwitted cops and a couple of lousy performances. But poor Mari and Phillis had to endure a horrific and all too real situation that is somehow helped by the parents revenge. It also helped that creep quota that it looked a bit like a snuff film. It certainly has become a cult classic and deservedly so, it is also one of my favorites. So of course, it must be remade correct? Well, probably not, but the fact that both Sean S. Cunningham and Wes Craven were directly involved helped soothe my initial fears.
Now the remake has none of that cheap, grainy quality that the original had. Not always a good thing. But what it does have is also what makes it a better film than the original. Yes, it is absolutely better and for a number of reasons. This latest version proves that this tale of revenge is ultimately as timely and affecting as it was in 1972. It also presents a very skilled group of actors that help make it believable, even if the gritty edge has been replaced by a surprisingly well shot motion picture. In an early scene, when a young Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) takes a swim, it feels nothing like a horror film. In fact, most of it looks and sounds like a drama where really scary stuff happens. The score by John Murphy represents the film so perfectly, that it really feels as if it lives and breathes as the circumstances go from dire to deadly. But no clashing symbols or loud shrieks of violins to let you know that you should jump can be found here, and yes, in my book that is a great thing.
If youíve seen the trailer, it is not hard to guess what the movie is about. And if youíve seen the original and the trailer, you already know where the two versions differ. One of the more subtle differences between the two films in the family dynamic. It is clear that Mariís parents, Emma and John Collingwood (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) are on the verge of a divorce. This is not a happy couple that will gladly band together to fight back some murderous psychos. No, they must separate their differences and figure out a way to deal with the folks that hurt their little girl. Both Monica and Tony are terrific here. First, as the detached and bitter husband and wife, and then as the desperate parents who must help their only living child. Yes, there is more to the story this time around. And ultimately, that raises the stakes.
I for one loved David Hess as Krug. He was certainly one of the better actors in the film and his menace was very human, and also very scary. So basically, Garret Dillahunt had some pretty wicked shoes to fill and he does so quite impressively. Dillahuntís Krug is a quiet storm. You know something is brewing, as his psychotic tendencies seem to slowly seep outward. I also found myself intrigued by his relationship with those around him. Most notably his own son Justin, played by Spencer Treat Clark. While the original film may have been a statement regarding the violence that was going on in the world during the Vietnam era, this update feels as though it is a comment on the modern family. Okay, maybe not, but I did notice the effects of how Mariís parents dealt with their issues as opposed to how Krug and his sonís relationship seemed long dead and buried. Again, you can credit each of these actors for being strong enough to make it worth investing in them.
Truthfully, I had few major complaints about Last House 2009. My biggest problem came from the weakest performance in the film. Iím not sure if Riki Lindhome was the right fit for Sadie. This was the one character that kept me harkening back to the original. When Jeramie Rain portrayed Sadie the first time around, she had the ability to be sexy, cool, and scary as hell. But all Riki does is seem like an annoyance. She didnít feel necessary aside from being a token badass hottie. The only time I felt that she seemed legit is when she first arrived at the Collingwoodís home. When she sweetly commented on the house and the family themselves. Before she knew that this would be a battling ground, I found her to be very sweet and I think her innocence was much more honest. This was not the right character for her and she feels awkward compared to the talented cast.
So yes, this film works incredibly well. Aside from one minor misstep in casting, I felt that the horror of parents who have to deal with this, one of the most dreadful things that could happen to your child, is effectiveÖ and yes, even thrilling. While it lacked the grittiness and the shock factor of the original, it made up for it with a strong cast and a timeless tale. Maybe I couldíve done without the microwave incident, but it will give the audience an extra chance to hoot and holler. But all in all, director Dennis Iliadis is able to make a cult classic once told, feel relevant and terrifying all over again. My rating 8/10 -- JimmyO