REVIEW: The Last House on the Left [2009]

“Always go for the gold”

I don’t usually get disgusted or squeamish when it comes to horror and gore, but after viewing The Last House on the Left remake, one of the many old Wes Craven films getting reworked, I have to admit, it was pretty harrowing. Does making me tense up and await some scenes’ conclusions make it an effective suspense/thriller? I’m not so sure. The plotline is thin, the result obvious, so as far as what will happen, there is very little question or anticipation. That being said, however, the death scenes and brutality are very much shrouded in the unknown. What one would expect to be the usual horror flick kills become methodical, realistic, and unbearable. Fists are thrown, knives are stabbed, and characters are slowed and tired. No one is supernatural, no one is above his own mortality, and, frankly, while that fact may not make it scary per se, it does make you question your motivations to keep sitting there watching it all.

The gist of the story is as follows: a family, (mother, father, and daughter), goes to the lake for a vacation from clients and patients. It is a year since Ben, the older child, passed away, and they are all just looking to enjoy themselves and relax despite his absence and the work that has distracted them and gotten them through the rough time. Daughter Mari is seventeen and looking to have more fun than just hanging with her parents and working on her swim speed. So, on the first night of their arrival, she asks to borrow the car and visit an old friend, Paige. The two find themselves meeting a boy their age that tells them he has some primo weed at his motel. His father and the woman he’s sleeping with, as well as his uncle aren’t supposed to be back, but of course, that assumption is wrong, ushering in the start of the chaos and carnage. Why you ask? Oh, because, as the opening scene shows, the boy’s father is an escaped, murdering psychopath excised from the cop car transporting him by his girl and brother. Let’s just say that their arrival to the motel turns the kiddies’ party up a few notches.

It is not all about this motley crew’s doings with the two young girls who have seen their faces and most likely will tell the police, no, most of the film’s action comes afterwards. You see, Mari escapes and slowly makes her way back home to her parents. The catch, however, is that the Manson family has already arrived there, thinking Mari has been killed, and playing house to earn a peaceful night indoors from the lovely and accommodating Collingwoods. So, what starts out as a brutal look into the activities of miscreants and how they treat those in their captivity becomes a revenge flick of epic proportions as the mister and missus decide to achieve retribution themselves for the state their daughter has been left in. Phones dead, power being supplied by a generator, and the sky opened up pouring rain on top of them, the Collingwoods play judge, jury, and executioner with deft skill and precision, or at least as much as can be expected from two suburbanites out to protect themselves and the child they have left.

It must be said that this thing is shot very nicely. Straight from the brief opening credit sequence, (no names listed until the end), as we dodge through trees, illuminated one at a time in the stark darkness as we move past, to some gorgeous underwater frames, to some inventive blocking and use of focus changing, the camerawork is intriguing in its own rite. As for the acting, it’s pretty darn good for a genre film of this kind. Martha MacIsaac, as Paige, annoyed me a bit, but no complaints otherwise. I really liked Sara Paxton as Mari, especially her cool, collected self as she attempts to escape her captors; Monica Potter is a loving, yet strong mother figure that is willing to do what’s necessary for her family; and Tony Goldwyn is pretty badass once he realizes the foursome staying under his roof are the ones who raped and left his daughter for dead. He will always be the bad guy in Ghost for me, but it’s nice to see him back on the big screen as he rarely gets to play in a high profile release. And then there is Spencer Treat Clark as Justin, the boy who unknowingly brought the young girls into the path of his violent dad. His vulnerability and inability to do anything to help is hard to watch.

What is really trying to watch, however, besides some gruesome moments during the revenge portion of the story, (claw hammer and garbage disposal anyone?), is the graphically realistic rape sequence. This scene is definitely not for the faint of heart because, as I read in an interview by Garret Dillahunt, he of psychopath patriarch Krug fame here, Paxton told him to go for it and make the moment as brutal as possible. And, trust me, it is. In the mud, clothes ripped, abstract close-ups of body parts unable to move under his strength, and everyone else watching, it becomes even more disturbing when finished as the camera lingers, in slow motion, on Paxton as she gets up—dirty and defiled—the comment by Dillahunt to his son, “you don’t know what you missed”, the only noise. Aaron Paul as the uncle and Riki Lindhome as the female companion are good and creepy in a horror film kind of way, but it’s Dillahunt that adds just the right mix of real life malice. A formidable force, able to smile and bring people in close before pouncing, he is one scary monster making all that follows his opening moment of choking a cop to death while holding a photo of his kids in front of his eyes possible, reviling, and effective horror.

The Last House on the Left 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

PS: (**Spoiler**), I think the ending should have been handled much better. Yes, I know the microwave was broken, as shown in the beginning, but I would have been even more affected if our villain’s demise came from bleeding out while paralyzed. Much better than an exploding head for sure—the one instance that broke the stark realism portrayed before it.

[1] Martha MacIsaac as Paige, Garret Dillahunt as Krug and Aaron Paul as Francis in Universal Pictures and Rogue Pictures’ The Last House on the Left
[2] Dr. John (TONY GOLDWYN) and Emma Collingwood (MONICA POTTER) in the suspense thriller ‘The Last House on the Left’


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