Nearly 40 years ago, quasi-hippy filmmakers Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham were looking to make a name for themselves (and a little cash, if possible) in the thriving New York exploitation scene. Working with some intent distributors, they adapted Igmar Bergman's Virgin Spring for the drive-in, and a grindhouse classic -- Last House on the Left -- was born. With its memorable marketing campaign ("repeat to yourself... it's only a movie... it's only a movie) and direct, documentary style, it had impact and import during a crucial time in post-modern American cinema. As with several of Craven's past projects, Last House has now been remade for the post-millennial crowd, and that's too bad. This tedious, tepid update offers none of the original's brutality or energy.
It's time for summer vacation and the Collingwood family -- doctor dad (Tony Goldwyn
), teacher mom (Monica Potter
), and daughter Mari (Sara Paxton
) -- are heading to their isolated lake house for a little R&R. Sadly, the teenage girl will soon run into escaped killer Krug (Garrett Dillahunt
), his son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), the equally unhinged Francis (Aaron Paul
), and gonzo gal pal Sadie (Riki Lindhome
). Along with her buddy Paige (Martha MacIsaac
), Mari will be tortured, abused, and left for dead. When the criminals show up at the Collingwood home looking for lodging, it's not long before the parents find out what happened... and when they do, the tables are turned and no one is safe. Article continues below
If there is one thing that the 2009 remake of the 1972 sleazoid classic lacks, it's urgency. Last House on the Left was never a laconic or laid-back experience. Yet this update is not in your face so much as behind you, whispering quietly. Craven and Cunningham managed to get their sickening, sadistic point across in 84 explosive minutes. There was no narrative fat on their thrill ride, even if the bumbling sheriff and his dimwitted deputy seemed like leftovers from a bad burlesque act. But under the tutelage of filmmaker Dennis Iliadis
s, everything here gets slowed down and expanded. Clocking in at nearly an hour and three-quarters, someone should have stepped in with the editorial scissors. Scenes go on far too long; pointless encounters do little except extend the time before blood is shed.
While he shows some skill behind the lens, Iliadis forgets the first thing about creating viable tension: getting us to care. We do sympathize (sort of) with the Collingwood clan, especially with the newly trumped up backstory about a dead older son. But before we know it, Mari is off with her inconsequential friend, the two are doping it up with weepy loser Justin, and Krug and crew suddenly appear and start showboating. A car crash, stabbing, and rather intense rape later, and Mom and Pop are putting on the feedbag for our spree killers. Critics love to point out that the original murderers felt some manner of remorse before the Collingwoods went Voorhees on them, but nowhere in this update do Krug, Sadie, or Francis ever once act like anything other than cardboard cutout criminals.
With performances better than the material offered (especially from Paxton, who does some amazing, breakthrough work here) and a wonderful bit of last-act gore, this revamp is not bad, just bewildering. Instead of realistic, it's relaxed in its approach to atrocity. Somewhere between the Manson family and the Madoff scandal, Wes Craven went from a motion picture outsider to a staple of "scary" movies. The Last House on the Left is reverent to his original. Too bad it's not as nasty.