Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last House On The Left (2009).

--This review has a cap from one of the more sexually unsavoury scenes of the film. Just a warning--

First, let's get the frivolity out of the way. People I recognised in this version of The Last House On The Left and where I found out they were from:
Okay now that's done, we can get serious.

To be honest, I wasn't even going to bother with this film until my LOVEFiLM list was a wee bit lighter. Nothing against remakes per se; I've come out the other side of the seething hatred for them and into numb acceptance, with the realisation that they can be good, on occasion. They rarely make it to the top of my films to-do list though.

Then a friend offered me his DVD on loan and ultimately, I liked it a lot more than I anticipated doing. Well, "liked" is perhaps an inappropriate word... "respected" is possibly better. Just so long as I never have to see the end sequence again - but more on that later.

This is a stunningly shot "re imagining" if you will, of Wes Craven's 1972 film. I've not watched the original in a while so this isn't going to be a comparison-based review, unless I can't help but draw parallels. The director this time around is Dennis Iliadis and yes, it was a new name to me, too. But if there's any justice in the world, this won't be the last we hear of him.

We know the plot, but in a nutshell this is a tale of three parts: Establishing the Collingwood family as a happy, supportive unit of three; following the daughter, Mari, as she meets with a friend but then falls into the hands of some truly fucked up villains; the final acts of vengeance committed by Mari's parents as they learn of her earlier ordeal.

The scene-setting shots of "normality" and family life reminded me very much of Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides. Such beauty, exquisitely framed and lit. They are almost otherworldly in their feel but also unnerving, somehow. Even if this were a film we didn't already know the outcome of, there is a distinct sense of foreboding hanging over every minute of this opening act.

Together with the outstanding score by John Murphy - an Englishman! - we are very aware that this lovely family, in this lovely house, is not gonna be so for very much longer.

Before Mari heads out to meet her friend Paige, there is a long sequence following her getting out of the shower and getting dressed. To start with, I found the inclusion of this confusing. If this were a slasher film or anything of that ilk, then the ubiquitous shower scene (and tit shot - although we don't get one of those here) is a given; but this film isn't like that and I wondered why we were being made to watch this girl being blatantly fetishised?

In the context of the whole film, all becomes clear. When the gang later attempt to force the youngest member and Krug's son, Justin, into sex with Mari, again we have close-ups of hands on her skin and clothes - but this time they aren't her own.

Justin succeeds in refusing to force himself onto her and so his father then steps up. The images that follow shed new light on the earlier collection of post-shower shots. We see them to be a direct reference and a forbear to when we are forced to watch Mari's clothes being ripped from her, first for Justin's benefit, then for Krug's.

It's really very clever and makes what is a harrowing scene of sexual assault all the more disturbing. We are a part of it, we become complicit, because we remember her underwear, for christ's sake, from earlier on. We regarded her dewy skin as she pulled on her clothes not minutes (our time, not hers) before - now we watch as she has those same items pulled from her. It's a brilliant and horrifying way of entangling the audience with the act.

This whole section of the film is difficult to watch, obviously. It is genuinely uncomfortable stuff. When Justin is being pushed towards Mari, screaming, when Paige gets stabbed before we, or indeed even she knows what's happening... and then Krug rapes Mari.

It's not graphic in the slightest, but it's one of the most prolonged rape scenes I think I've ever seen. Like Mari herself, we are given no get-out from this nightmare. We are forced (unless we turn off the DVD of course) to sit and endure every intensely awful moment. My god, IMDb trivia says that the rape scene took seventeen hours to film, I can't even imagine.

After this attack is when - what I took to be at least - an homage to the original takes place. Remember the post rape moment in Wes Craven's film? The villains survey one another sheepishly and wipe the blood from their hands, bringing to mind naughty children?

The equivalent here is when Krug stands up from raping Mari, Sadie (who had participated, in that she'd held the girl down and removed her clothes) slowly raises her eyes to meet his. She then smiles, awkwardly. It's a tiny thing but pretty much shattering in its inclusion.

Mari being shot at in the lake brings about more stunning shots that I have to include here:

The final act of this story always takes me by surprise, somehow. It's perverse really, as the whole weight of the movie is really behind the "middle class gone feral in vengeance" idea; and yet it always slips my mind for a second that there is more to see after we have witnessed the girls being tortured.

It is interesting to note that the earlier technique of laying civilised, wholesome groundwork is repeated here. When Krug and his gang take shelter in the Collingwood house, before either party know exactly how they are related, we are once again treated to scene-setting static shots of a cosy family home. Drink it in chaps, drink it in before the blood starts splashing the walls.

The tension resulting from the coming together of these six individuals is handled perfectly. It's an exercise in baby-step sized increments of suspense.

The gang initially remain just the right side of weird, provoking thoughtful looks and the odd comment between the Collingwood's, but not much else. The actors nail it to be honest. They are less histrionic than their 1972 equivalents - but that is what's needed here. Alternatively, they are quiet, menacing and most frightening of all: strange. Something about them is off. For instance, when Mrs Collingwood is showing them to the guesthouse, they cram into the bathroom behind her.

It's not psychopathic behaviour by any means, it just doesn't seem quite right. Nothing too out of the ordinary to set the alarm bells ringing but enough to wake the spidey senses.

And then comes the climatic bloodbath.

If Sadie's tight-lipped smile to her beloved is my first favourite moment of the film, then the glance exchanged between Mr and Mrs Collingwood, as they both realise they are about to commit murder, is my second.

No words are exchanged, because none are needed. We also know by their grim determination that neither want to, nor will, back down from this. This is the step they must take to avenge their daughter. "We have to be ready to do... anything."

It's a simple but powerful moment - which is quite something, coming from someone who can't usually look at Monica Potter without getting LeAnn Rimes stuck in her head.

The final dispatching of the gang is again, right on the money. Until Krug. Oh god, why. Heed my advice and turn this film off once you hit the 1:40:04 mark, because something ridiculous and uncalled for happens that just undermines all the great work before it. I get angry just thinking about it!

I'm not going to tell you what it is. All I am going to say is that it pissed me off this was allowed to be included and I hope that Iliadis' hand was forced into doing so. He cannot have made a movie this good, then thought that ending was a suitable way to finish it.

This movie comes highly recommended, however I repeat: turn off at 1:40:04 and save yourself from the jarring, superfluous final scene and the use of 'Dirge' by Death In Vegas (one of my favourite songs) directly afterwards. Putting a silly hat on a great flick is one thing... but don't soundtrack it with a song I adore as well, argh!


  1. I believe the dad was also the bad guy in Ghost, haha. So that's two terrible power ballads connected to the parents!

    This sounds like a good film, I've not even watched the original though.

  2. Wow, great write up. However its really left me in two minds about seeing this film :-S