Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2009

Uncomfortably numb

Revenge is served, overcooked, in 'The Last House on the Left'

The Last House on the Left
Rogue Pictures
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Screenplay: Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, based on a 1972 screenplay by Wes Craven
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Riki Lindhome, Sara Paxton and Spencer Treat Clark
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
Opened March 13, 2009
(out of four)

Another week, another remake. Or two, as the case may be. In this case, the studios doubled up on the double-dipping, giving us a pair of retreads in The Last House on the Left and Race to Witch Mountain (review pending).

In the horror genre alone, this is already the fourth remake over the first 2 months of 2009. And I suppose there's no way to stop this until people stop going to see them. But I digress - this is all beside the point.

Just about the worst feeling one can get from a movie, original or otherwise, is ambivalence. The intention of The Last House on the Left is to scare, or disturb, or disgust, or all three. It fails on all counts, but not due to incompetence - this is a well-filmed and well-acted exercise in brutality.

Only it has nothing to say about that brutality, no way of contextualizing it, no ability to understand it beyond the most simplistic of terms.

This is a revenge tale based on Wes Craven's 1972 original - which itself was reportedly based off the same poem that inspired Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. A young woman gets viciously attacked and her father - or, in this case, both parents - takes bloody revenge.

It's a tight balancing act, to be sure. It can' t excite us, because we've just seen a 20-year-old girl raped and nearly killed. It can't do much to scare us, either; after all, nothing is more emotionally frightening than a rape, and besides, this is a revenge movie - there's only one way things are going to go.

I suppose what it could do is draw us into the experience of these parents as they discover their daughter's fate, and the stroke of blind chance that has landed her assailants in their laps. I think that's what director Dennis Iliadis was going for - extreme empathy. He wants us to feel what the parents feel, and feel just as compelled as they do to unleash holy hell.

As it turns out, holy hell isn't nearly as satisfying as it sounds. To be fair, on certain levels, it almost succeeds. Far more attention is paid to character than could be expected. Of several good performances, Garret Dillahunt - as the leader of the group of outlaws that committed the aforementioned atrocities (among others) - stands out. He is sociopathic and physically imposing, but he's not a machine. He's rational, composed.

You can see the wheels in his head turning when he has to make a quick decision. You can see how he leads the others. You can see surprise in his eyes, and alarm, and even fear. A lot of other movies wouldn't have the patience for all that.

But the virtues of Last House can't hold up against its general lack of purpose. Like so many revenge films, it backs itself into a corner. It shows no ability to be creative within its natural constraints. Ambivalence seems the only response.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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