The Last House on the Left
Release Date: March 13, 2009
Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Spencer Treat Clark, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen
By Sean Chavel
"The Last House on the Left" is a thriller that goes for the throat and then decides to let you up for air by going slack, employing manipulative tactics and allowing its characters second chances. Until the film chooses to fall apart, the suspense – and horror – of the first hour or so is breathless. For those unfamiliar with the story’s roots, this isn’t supernatural horror. This is a demonstration of real human evil horror, the horror you find in encountering depraved sociopathic behavior.
Two girls go on a quest to score marijuana by befriending a questionably icky and sloppy teenager (Spencer Treat Clark) who happens to be the youngest – and sole innocent – in a family of sociopaths. Krug (Garret Dillahunt) is the head in the kindred of scuzzbuckets, a recent escapee from the law. Sadie (Riki Lindhome) is the vicious tomboy in the family, and Krug’s girl, and her trash conduct is observed the very moment she casually takes her top off when she enters a motel room occupied by the boy Justin and the two girls whom he shares his joint. Francis (Aaron Paul) is Krug’s brother, who is vicious too but probably the least memorable, aside from his facial hair and nose wounds, in this Manson-style family.
This knife-toting family is not merciful. First off, they’re trying to protect their hides because Krug is a fugitive with his mug shot in the newspaper. Krug can’t let these two girls go. They pack up from their motel and take these girls hostage. They end up in the woods. The girls are beaten. One of the girls is raped. They are both left for dead. And this murderous family is left stranded. These painful events are handled unblinkingly and mercilessly.
These killers, now without transportation means, seek shelter at a nearby home in the woods and are unwittingly invited in by the parents of one of the girls that they had just slain. The Collingwoods’ are played by Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter as intellectually well-bred but hip and attractive parents. Their daughter Mari (Sara Paxton), a champion swimmer in her high school, seemed like a sensible girl of caution. Soon the parents will be tipped off as to what these strangers had just done to their daughter. The parents will resort to revenge while their guests are asleep. The suspense is, of course, that Goldwyn and Potter are playing domesticated yuppies new to the idea of homicide and so their nervousness and anxiety is palpable.
So this remote country home becomes host to an endless night of blood games. But while their first act of revenge is gruesome and primal, the rest of the pulpy sequence of events is needlessly protracted and contrived. This is one of those movies where one bullet wound can never stop anybody (Call it “The Invincible Man” syndrome you find in bad action movies). While the film feigns non-stop terror, the suspense descends to a lurching tempo because the reality has been stripped away from this story.
What does transpire believably in this movie are the personalities of the characters involved. The victim Mari is a strong and cope-ready young girl unlike her fellow woods victim who one too many times incites these killers. The parents are acutely distressed but strategic in their revenge. Krug is a dichotomy of evil and a smiley-faced stranger who can conceal his true wicked nature when called for. And Sadie is perhaps the most interesting villain because of her unsavory and violating way she touches the victims that just screams creepy.
While four previous incarnations exist, the most famous inspiration for this remake is the 1972 Wes Craven film also called “The Last House on the Left” which was a scary but coarser piece of filmmaking (but it was also uncompromised). This version does have a more cognizant quality – it makes you wonder, moment-to-moment, how you would deal in outsmarting a crew of sociopaths if you would be put up to the test. But you give up wondering, and even caring, when the film goes off the deep end. What’s left is a fairly OK piece of exploitation that leaves you begging for something sick to happen.