23 March 2019

Review: The Last House On The Left (2009)

The title The Last House On The Left has particular resonance for British horror fans. Until relatively recently Wes Craven's cult classic 1972 original remained unavailable in it's uncut form having been one of the many films to fall victim of the notorious video nasties debacle of the 1980s. Craven's Last House On The Left was a film that divided critical opinion with some critics praising it's unflinching analysis and depiction of violence and it's results (inspired by Craven's disgust at the sanitised news reports of real life violence in Vietnam), while others saw it as merely low budget exploitation trash.

Loosely inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 1960 arthouse classic The Virgin Spring (itself based on a 13th century Swedish ballad named Töres dotter i Wänge) the film tells the story of two young girls who are abducted, raped and murdered by a gang who are on the run. When their car breaks down the gang unwittingly seek refuge at a house belonging to the parents of one of their victims. As the narrative progresses the parents, after discovering their daughter's fate, take their brutal revenge.

With the spate of horror remakes and reboots that have been hitting our screens in recent years it wasn't surprising that story of The Last House On The Left was recycled, what is surprising is that in many ways it surpasses the original - although once again such confrontational material has sharply divided opinion.

Produced by Wes Craven and directed by Dennis Iliadis, the remake takes the key elements of the original and effectively reworks them to startling effect. Rather than follow the route of other recent horror remakes by using flashy music video style editing The Last House On The Left takes it's time to build up it's characters, also favouring long takes to build suspense rather than relying on jump cuts. The ever reliable John Murphy contributes an excellent score, and the cast all turn in performances of a quality that is completely unexpected in a horror remake.

The narrative has been changed in a number of ways that reduce the sheer nihilistic bleakness of the original, but the changes do not detract from the overall shocking effect - although a short postscript involving a microwave does threaten to destabilise the taught narrative that has preceeded it.

It should be emphasised that this film, like the original, is not meant to entertain but to raise questions about our individual capacity for violence and the thin veil of respectability and control that prevents the vast majority of us from acting on our worse impulses. The film's challenge (and tagline), "If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?" is one that each viewer must confront when viewing this disturbing and thought provoking film.
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