The Last House on the Left
Sorry we didn’t call ahead – I hope you’ve still got a room for us.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/13/2009
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Cast: Sara Paxton, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac, Riki Lindhome

Hopping on the horror remake train this Friday the 13th is “The Last House on the Left”. Originally done by Ingmar Bergman in 1960 under the title “Jungfrukällan” and then remade once already by Wes Craven in 1972, the premise is still essentially the same. A nice family goes on vacation to a house in the woods, their daughter is sexually and physically assaulted by a gang of evil doers and they end up seeking refuge (unknowingly) in the house of the parents. (And yes, there are a number of other differences for you horror buffs out there but the basic idea is still there).

This go around, Sara Paxton gets the unenviable job of playing the victimized daughter. From an acting perspective, she did fine – at times adding more intelligence to the stock teen role – but more often then not, playing it exactly as one would expect. Director Dennis Iliadis, however, decided it wasn’t enough to simply cast a younger looking actress – he had to make sure audiences understand just how virginal and clean she was before Garret Dillahunt and his cohorts get a hold of her. To do that, just about every element of Paxton’s attire was spotless and white (symbolism people) and while she wasn’t squeaky clean when it came to social activities, it was supremely evident that she knew right from wrong and was a good girl. You’d think one outfit or over handed / sexually suggestive camera shot would be enough but Iliadis really hammers this one home … probably for the people in the back who don’t think so good.

That over handed element aside, Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter made for a nice casting choice as the parents. While I am told that the psychological distance (from sweet to murderous) the parents in the original version must travel through is much greater, I felt the actors did a good job of showing an escalation to their moral flexibility. Goldwyn, especially, has always been good at this and the screening audience hooted and hollered whenever he or Potter would exact revenge on their daughter’s abusers.

And when I say exact revenge, I mean exact revenge. Although one of the evil trio gets off somewhat lightly, the other two endure some pretty intense pain during the course of the film. Having committed such vile actions on Paxton’s character makes it easy for an audience’s bloodlust to be set on red alert and so if you are inclined to enjoy “morally just” violence, there are a number of scenes that will curb your appetite.

However, if you’re looking for a good, scary movie, this one isn’t quite going to do it. As my readers are well aware, I’m a huge wuss and tend to avoid horror films. It worked out okay for me here because I would categorize this remake more as a violent thriller and leave it at that. There really aren’t any “jump” moments, where the combination of sound effects and fast, unexpected actions might make you look silly to your date and there isn’t much room for doubt as to where the film is going.

Adding to the film’s flaws is the inclusion of a son (Spencer Treat Clark) for Dillahunt’s character. I suppose the goal was to provide an extra element of moral gray to the picture but it was just an ancillary annoyance. He’s responsible for getting Paxton and her friend (Martha MacIsaac) into trouble to begin with and is frozen with fear of his father to do anything about it. I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but if this is a character that was made specifically for this version of the story, it’s something that would have been better left out.

Last on my hit list (since I’m not interested enough to divulge all of the negative elements) is the film’s score and sound work. I suppose Iliadis and the producers figured that if the violence was going to be over the top, you should do the same with these elements but the result cheapens the overall effort. From the opening credits, I could already tell I was going to be constantly distracted by the overhanded score and since I’m well over the age of rationalization and can figure how whether the scene should make me feel tense, happy or sad based on the actions, not the music.

One last note of caution to potential viewers is that the rape scene may be too much for some people. It’s not as viscerally disturbing as the 9-minute one shot in “Irreversible” and lacks a little of the punch from something like “The Accused” but it’s still far from enjoyable. Though obviously, the point of its inclusion is to allow audiences to feel nothing but joy when the perpetrators start getting their just desserts.

I suppose if you’re into films of this nature, I could justify checking it out. You’ll see every twist and turn coming and gore hounds might decide there should have been more but I’ll admit I was decently entertained and so I’ll give “The Last House on the Left” a 3 out of 5. It might be more interesting to try and watch all three in succession to spot the variances but then again, depending on your proclivities, it might be more interesting to read a book. As always, I leave your fiscal solvency in your own hands.