Last House on the Left needs renovations

by Glen Baity

I’m not generally one for conspiracy theories, but after watching Taken a few weeks back and the remake of The Last House on the Left last Friday, I think Hollywood may be using the late winter to send us a message. And that message is: Fathers, vacation season is nearly upon us. Don’t let your teenage daughters out of your sight. Not for a minute. The Last House on the Left, a punishing remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 directorial debut, is more than happy to illustrate the horrors waiting should you leave your little girl unsupervised. For our purposes today, that girl is 17-year-old Mari (Sara Paxton), and she makes the mistake of accompanying her flirty, fun friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) on a weed run. One problem: Paige’s new dealer is part of a family of sociopaths on the run from the law. A wrong decision becomes an ordeal, and before long, Mari is fighting to escape from Krug, his brother Giles and girlfriend Sadie (Garret Dillahunt, Joshua Cox and Riki Lindhome). Director Dennis Iliadis, at least at first, proves adept at pacing a tense-if-ordinary thriller. But Last House takes an exceedingly ugly turn in the dead center with a graphic, protracted rape scene. It’s designed to galvanize the viewer’s hatred for these inexplicably evil people, but it has the unintended effect of alienating the audience. It’s a long downhill tumble from there. With Mari left for dead and a monster storm blowing in, the gang decides to pose as a normal family on holiday and hole up at the remote home of Emma and John (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn). The twist: These are Mari’s parents, and they don’t yet know what’s happened to their daughter. When the secret gets out, get ready for some big-time killin’. To call The Last House on the Left repulsive almost gives it too much credit. While it’s thoroughly unpleasant, it’s also just a middling thriller without much to set it apart from a crowded field of lookalike entries. The outlaw family bit was done to greater effect in The Desperate Hours, and more recently in films like The Devil’s Rejects and The Strangers. The Last House on the Left, though populated by a few reliable character actors in Goldwyn and Dillahunt, lacks any really memorable personalities, and it’s crippled by its odd structure. The film’s first half focuses almost entirely on Mari, but when she’s put out of commission, it switches off to her parents, with whom we spend virtually no time before the plot forces them to take over. Consequently, you don’t have time to develop any real concern for any of these people, beyond the basic human impulse of not wanting to see someone raped. The entire first hour, of course, is just a setup for the delicious, delicious revenge meted out in the film’s final reel. By giving the parents the upper hand and the righteous grudge, Last House hands them, and by proxy the audience, free reign to wipe out evil mercilessly. Emma and John take to the task with all manner of household tools and kitchen implements (including a pickaxe, a garbage disposal and a microwave, to name a few; really, the variety here is impressive for a film that isn’t associated with the Saw franchise). We’re meant to revel in this savage catharsis, but in reality it’s a numbing, empty non-thrill. Maybe all this stuff was more original 30-odd years ago, but we’re living in the era of both torture porn and pointless horror remakes. The Last House on the Left is only the latest to move onto the block.

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