The consensus on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site is that this remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 filmmaking debut “lacks the intellectual punch” of its model. The intellectual punch? Has anyone looked at Craven’s The Last House on the Left recently? It’s a vile, dreary, depressing, amateurish work. The big question is which of the original film’s scenes are more appalling: its instructional-film-looking scenes of normal family life or its torture-humiliation-rape-revenge scenes? Its “intellectual punch” consists of a bloody peace-symbol necklace and watching the daughter defy her upright uptight parents, followed by watching the uptight upright parents turn vengeance-crazed killers. Craven would one day make a film with an intellectual punch that actually addresses the question of the price of vengeance—A Nightmare on Elm Street—but that was 12 years after his debut film.
Craven’s film has some psychological interest when looked at as the work of a man who grew up in a repressive fundamentalist household. In that regard, the original can be seen as Craven both struggling with that background and informing his film with the mind-set of his youth. Interesting perhaps, but it doesn’t make his Last House any better. That its crudeness adds to the grubby feel of the movie seems more the result of basic ineptitude than a conscious artistic decision.
So here comes the Craven-produced remake from Greek director Dennis Iliadis. What exactly can be said about it? Well, it’s less embarrassingly made and … well, it’s less embarrassingly made. Beyond that, there’s little to be said in its favor. The story—though updated and with more (largely useless) backstory for the bad guys—is pretty much the same as the original, except with extra gloss, which, if anything, works against the film. Making the family the model of conspicuous consumption and the titular house a summer home with a spacious guesthouse was perhaps not the best idea for audience identification or sympathy. Worse, however, is the fact that all of the backstory and setup result in a movie that manages at once to be unpleasant and tedious.
Here’s the pitch: The Collingwood family—mom, Emma (Monica Potter, Saw), dad, John (Tony Goldwyn, The Last Samurai), and daughter, Mari (Sara Paxton, Superhero Movie)—go to their vacation home, the last house on the left in the middle of a forest. (Actually, it’s the only house out there, making it also the first house on the left, but that sounds somehow less ominous.) Unfortunately, Mari takes the family SUV into what passes for a town where she hooks up with her more worldly friend, Paige (Martha MacIsaac, Superbad), and is led astray.
A young man, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark, Mystic River)—who looks like he wandered in from one of Gus Van Sant’s twink-meditation movies—offers to fix them up with some marijuana back at his motel. This illicit activity has a spectacular downside, since it turns out that Justin’s dad, Krug (Garret Dillahunt, No Country for Old Men), is a psychotic killer on the run with his girlfriend, Sadie (Riki Lindhome, My Best Friend’s Girl), and Justin’s brother, Francis (Aaron Paul, TV’s Breaking Bad). And who do you suppose walks in on them at the motel? Naturally, this means the girls have to die. Mayhem, rape, murder and attempted murder follow.
Of course, circumstances land the murderous trio and the conscience-stricken Justin at the Collingwood home, where they presume upon the family’s hospitality—a hospitality that turns inhospitable when Mari drags her wounded, battered self to the doorstep and the Collingwoods realize that the folks sleeping in their guesthouse are the ones responsible for her rape and attempted murder. This realization makes them irritable, prompting messy revenge of the creative-death school, while the family simultaneously tries to find the keys to the boat so they can get Mari to the hospital.
It’s all in the modern school of torture porn, which involves lingering lovingly over pain for its own sake. The appeal probably depends on one’s fondness for such things as hands in garbage disposals, hammers in heads and heads in microwaves. OK, so the last is kind of novel, even if the results are predictable and Scanners (1982) did it better, anyway. Plus, though the head microwaving is played up in the trailer, it’s not only relatively minor, but you also have to sit through the whole damn movie to get to it. It’s not worth it. Rated R for sadistic brutal violence, including a rape, and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use.