Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Spencer Treat Clark, Garrett Dillahunt
Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth (based upon earlier work by Wes Craven)
In 1961, Ingmar Bergman's controversial "The Virgin Spring" captured the Best Foreign Film Oscar by creating a dark, brooding cinematic presence wrapped around a story that would become, in 1972, not too far removed from Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left."
Craven's version, far from an Oscar winner, is nonetheless considered a bit of a horror legend with its tale of rape and revenge and extreme brutality. In Craven's film, violence is more celebrated than moralized, as it is in "The Virgin Spring."
There IS a morality play going on in Craven's film, but it would be difficult to deny that Craven seeks as much to offend and shock, as well.
Then, in 2005, David DeFalco tried to sell us "Chaos," a spin-off film that he tried to market almost solely based upon its being reprehensible.
Ebert completely trashed it with a zero star rating. Ultimately, the NC-17 rated film never made a blip at the box-office and only gorehounds even know it exists.
Now, director Dennis Iliadis gives us a 2009 version of "Last House on the Left."
There are people who will love "Last House on the Left." You know who you are. My review is irrelevant to you.
This review is primarily directed at those of you wondering "Should I see it?"
You have a doubt.
You've seen the advertising, you've watched the trailer and, perhaps, you even remember the horrifying rape scene in the original.
As noted by film critic James Berardinelli, this rape scene is, without a doubt, one of the most horrifying, awful, vicious and traumatizing scenes ever filmed, perhaps only behind the unforgettable "Irreversible" and Tim Roth's "The War Zone," a film that received one of my very few A+, 4-star ratings.
If "Hostel" or the "Saw" films bring you to the point of orgasm, then odds are fairly strong that "Last House on the Left" is for you.
Wrapped around an intense and occasionally compelling story of revenge, the violence in "Last House on the Left" is raging, overwhelming and almost hypnotic.
"Last House on the Left" begins, as did the original, with two young women who, while on vacation with the family of one of the girls, inadvertently stumble across a personable, mysterious loner with a family that would make Leatherface proud. The two young women, Paige (Martha MacIsaac) and Mari (Sara Paxton), are brutally attacked and raped. Paige is murdered, Mari is left for dead.
The not so merry band of ne'er do wells leaves the scene and, in an anxiety inducing turn of events, end up at the vacation home of Mari's parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) seeking refuge from a storm.
The parents initially have no idea the fate of their daughter and the identity of their visitors.
These visitors, likewise, have no idea they have stumbled across the parents of one of their victims.
Needless to say, all hell breaks loose.
Unlike Craven's "Last House on the Left," this 2009 version is absolutely relentless with nary a moment given by the filmmaker for the audience to breathe, laugh or even sustain a moment of hope.
Craven, occasionally, let up. There was an occasional moment of dark humor, a break from the action.
There are no breaks here.
"Last House on the Left" is an emotionally exhausting, dizzying film that somehow manages to maintain its "What would you do if you could exact revenge" moral story line.
It is a legitimate question.
Despite my own well known pacifism, I'm not blind to the fact that many parents, faced with their own violent death of a child, would feel and respond with similar energy, enthusiasm and rage.
Indeed, while I personally find "Last House on the Left" fairly close to worthless, Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter are utterly compelling even in the midst of a rage that seemingly has no end.
Goldwyn, who has a long history in family films and whose involvement in this project initially shocked me, is mesmerizing as the father who goes, well, whupass on this gang.
In fact, were it not for an end that is completely unsatisfying and over-the-top silly, "Last House on the Left" may very well have earned a modest recommendation from me despite my own distaste for it.
Along with the strong performances by Potter and Goldwyn, Dillahunt shines in creating a mesmerizing character out of a man who seems to come about as close to pure evil as a human being can exist. Paxton, as well, brings surprising humanity despite the obvious ill-fated nature of her character.
Tech credits are solid across the board for "Last House on the Left," most notably Sharone Meir's memorable camera work and John Murphy's atmospheric original score.
Is this version better than Craven's version?
There's no denying that Iliadis is blessed with a higher budget, still considered modest by current standards. On a certain level, it would actually appear that Iliadis tones things down a bit despite setting a mood that is relentless. The violence, with the exception of the rape, feels less outlandish and absurd than in Craven's film.
Perhaps more authentic?
I don't buy into the moral justifications for "Last House on the Left." It's hogwash. There's, quite literally, no NEED to make a film this violent to make any sort of point about revenge.
So, setting aside that key argument I'm left with the question "How does "Last House on the Left" work as a film?"
Impossible to recommend but equally impossible to ignore, "Last House on the Left" is a surprisingly well acted, painfully photographed journey through the "What ifs?" that exist in the darkest recesses in our minds.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic