Film >Microwave sinners
The 1972 shocker-slasher film The Last House on the Left was considered one of the most gruesome, sadistic movies of its time, and for good reason. In scenes of depraved torture and horrifying coincidence, debut writer-director Wes Craven used the story of two young women’s brutal deaths – and one of their parents’ equally dark revenge – to exorcise his Vietnam demons.
In that film, the girls are beaten, humiliated, raped and murdered by a gang of psychos who then take refuge from the law inside the home of, it turns out, one of their victims’ parents. That twist (lifted from Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film The Virgin Spring), the overwhelming nausea of fate’s absurdity, was meant to be the real shocker. The violence and gore in Craven’s film only served to heighten the moral imperative behind the vengeance.
This remake, starring Tony Goldwyn and Saw vet Monica Potter, is faithful in plot but not in spirit. Helmed by Greek director (and first-timer in the States) Dennis Iliadis, the new Last House revels in matters physical rather than philosophical. His clumsy camera attempts an urgent, vérité style, but only manages to convey the premature excitement of an adolescent boy at a peep show. It’s hard to feel safe in the hands of a new director – especially when it comes to a macabre trip like this one, in which a student driver is at the wheel.
This becomes especially problematic for the film’s willfully uncomfortable, endless rape scene. The girl in question, Mari Collingwood, is played by Sara Paxton, who is 20 in real life, plays 17 and looks an asexual 14. The way the first act attempts to eroticize Paxton as a waif-like innocent who strips to her unmentionables to take a swim – the camera even captures a lecherous, faux-incidental upskirt shot – is indicative of Iliadis’ impotent choices. He’s too insecure to subject a sexually awakened (and thus, empowered) woman to his lingering thrill-seeking.
Iliadis’ trembling boyhood draws excess attention to the sexual aspect of the assault in a way that the original rightly avoided, because it inevitably makes us question what kind of humans these thugs are. The original gave us an answer: They’re not. But Iliadis and screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth can’t be bothered with the criminals’ character development, leaving the actors to fill in the blanks, which they don’t. Garret Dillahunt’s Krug, along with his brother and his possible girlfriend, come off as cool customers, far too clear-headed and reasonable to be operating on the level of rage and passion that their actions require. The same goes for Mari’s parents (mommy gets hands-on in this version), upper-class worrywarts who taste blood and then can’t seem to get enough. That’s especially true of the final scene, which I won’t reveal here, in which the father arguably becomes a far greater monster than the bad guys could ever hope to be.
I take some comfort in humanity: The crowd I saw it with recognized the father’s moral trespass and, for a brief and wonderful moment, stopped applauding the revenge porn. There’s hope yet.