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The Last House on the Left

Released: 2009

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 1 hr 50 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Dennis Iliadis

Starring: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac, Sara Paxton

Remake of Wes Craven’s ‘70s shocker about teenagers murdered in the woods.

Everything that happens had a much greater impact in the original.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 7 years ago

Don’t do drugs. Or else you’ll end up stabbed, raped and bleeding to death in the woods.

That seems to be the message of The Last House on the Left, the slick new remake of Wes Craven’s shocking directorial debut. While horror movies of the ‘70s had a gnarly soul about them – Craven’s original was commenting on the orgy of violence America unleashed on Southeast Asia – the horror remakes of today are products of nothing more than a corporate bottom line. There’s no reference point here; the story is self-contained, and on its own terms only sporadically engaging.

This is certainly one of the more audacious horror remakes of recent years. The original film depicted (in what felt like real time) the rape and attempted murder of two teenage girls. Is this really the kind of material that can be repackaged for the multiplex crowd? Apparently it is: the remake ruled the box office last March, beating out Zack Snyder’s Watchmen for the top spot.

One thing the filmmakers get right is the casting of the girls. Sara Paxton (she’s still doing Disney TV shows like “Jonas” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” for chrissakes!) and Martha MacIsaac (she played the Goldslick vodka-loving girl who Michael Cera wanted to lose his virginity to in Superbad) are about as squeaky clean as it gets. Putting them in harm’s way – and showing what happens to them in graphic, unnerving detail – gives the first half of the film a shuddery impact.

Mari (Paxton) is on vacation with her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) at their summer house in the woods. She borrows the family car and goes to pick up her friend Paige (MacIsaac). The girls meet up with a sullen-looking guy (Spencer Treat Clark), and they all end up going back to his motel room to smoke pot. They’re doomed! Doomed, I tell ya!

What happens next would be off-limits in most mainstream movies, but here it plays out in excruciating, extended detail. You might expect something like this to happen in an underground shocker like Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, but not in a big-budget horror movie marketed to teenagers.

Still, for all of this new film’s disproportionate shock value, everything that happens had a much greater impact in the original. The casting of the gang that terrorizes the girls is the biggest problem. They’re relatively clean-cut, almost attractive. They express some class resentment toward Mari and her parents, but beyond that, it’s difficult to tell who these people are or where they came from. (In Craven’s film, the gang looked and acted like the scum of the earth.) They don’t look all that scary, which makes it easier to remember that none of this is really happening – it’s all being filmed on a movie set. The tagline of the original was: “Keep telling yourself… it’s only a movie!” But you don’t have to do that while watching the 2009 version of Last House on the Left. Certainly not during the improbable last 30 minutes, when Mari’s hapless yuppie parents become unstoppable killing machines.

This is a movie-movie, one with stunning locations and gorgeous anamorphic widescreen cinematography. But what’s up with that? At the end of the day, what’s the point of a beautifully filmed rape scene, anyway?