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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.

This year's authentic must-see horror.

Review by: TomElce

Added: 8 years ago

The first legitimately frightening cinematic experience of the year, The Last House on the Left ditches the goofball comedy elements of its namesake predecessor while embracing that film's bleak viciousness. Following the same plot trajectory -- two teenage girls (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac) come into contact with a gang of dirtbag criminals, are subsequently raped and (in one case) murdered by them, with the villains afterwards heading unknowingly to the lake home of Paxton's Mari and her parents (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) -- this new film boasts significantly higher production values and more concise screenwriting than Wes Craven's 1972 schlocker, which itself borrowed extensively from Bergman's Virgin Spring. Writers Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, as well as inexperienced director Dennis Iliadis, may trade in easy-to-box cinematic character types, but they also trade in breathtakingly atmospheric tension peppered with the same nihilistic violence that finds the films of Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects, Halloween) being overlooked. The apparent cruelty and voyeurism with which the movie's proceedings unfold offset by more moral complexity than one finds in watered-down J-horror remakes and a poignant sense of tragedy too often absent in the genre, The Last House on the Left makes for one of the most surprising, multi-layered and, indeed, best films of the year.

If one thought it impossible for The Last House on the Left to prove more shocking and audience-diving than its '70s counterpart, Dennis Iliadis makes sure to push the envelope, expanding both on the original film's themes and increasing the general unpleasantness of the violence. The violence is often explicit, the film opening with a cruel double homicide in which lead villain Krug (an excellent Garret Dillahunt) taunts one of his cop victims with a photograph of his children upon which his blood drips, then moving on to the unnerving extended woodlands sequence in which Mari and Paige (MacIsaac) are brutally tormented by their captors -- Krug's bitter girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindholme), brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and Krug's unwilling son Justin (Spencer Treak Clark). By refusing to shy away from the horrific rape and violence that transpires, Iliadis puts into perspective what later follows once the group arrive at the home of Mari's parents. Lest anyone suspect the filmmakers have no knack for creating intense unease out of anything other than explicit violence, the segment is broken up by numerous standout shots, cinematographer Sharone Meir capturing the surroundings eerily, especially in between-screaming interludes, where moments of would-be peaceful tranquility have been transformed into quiet horror -- much as Meir herself achieved in 2004's hugely affecting Mean Creek.

Once action switches to the lakeside getaway of Mari's schoolteacher mother and doctor father, The Last House on the Left takes another rejuvenating turn. With the knowledge of their daughter's ordeal steadily coming to their attention, Emma and John Collingwood are forced to make a decision on how to deal with the people they unwittingly allowed to stay in their guest home. With help miles away, they choose retaliation against Krug and company, the result being that the tables are turned on the antagonists, Last House on the Left doing away with the gleefulness with which the original parents took these actions thirty-seven years ago and hammering the bleakness of proceedings home. Devoid of humour, the film is a superior retread alternative to this year's recent, more self-aware My Bloody Valentine, equally blood-soaked but more emotionally and technically rewarding.

When a film's marketing campaign does an incredible disservice by virtually revealing its entire plot before audiences have even seen the opening credits (as the trailers and TV spots for Last House have done), it takes a genuinely excellent motion picture to pull things back. Fortunately, The Last House on the Left qualifies as the best horror movie of the year. It is atmospherically lensed, the scenery -- be it the woods or the lake house -- captured in a manner both doom-laden and aesthetically better than its low-budget sibling (the shot of characters walking down a road as a sign reading "Lake ends in the road" looms overhead is one of the more memorable shots). It avoids the cheap gotcha! tactics so frequently employed by lame teenage slasher films of the day, boasting approximately one superfluous jump scare and zero spontaneous revivals. Finally, the pacing is concise without being rapid or uneven, director Iliadis allowing events to unfold at a natural pace that doesn't cater to the MTV generation and as such puts you right in the moment. Technically proficient, intelligently written and fiercely uncompromising, The Last House on the Left is this year's authentic must-see horror.