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Most Dangerous Game without the honor, Daniel Ilidias’ remake of Wes Craven’s cult classic The Last House On The Left is a depraved portrait of humanity, specifically the lack there of we all display at our worst. Inside the woods, there’s no order, morality or people to hear you scream, just impulsive beasts nourishing themselves with the weaknesses of others. To call this film a disturbing lens into the nightmare inside all of us might be overstating its depth and scope, but these questions linger beneath the movie’s surface, pushing what could have been a mediocre horror flick further beyond just above average and into downright decency. Like Scorsese’s Cape Fear, another remake, The Last House On The Left is less a fright fest of ghosts in the shadows and more a creepy, disturbing battle of savage wills.
Teenage swimmer Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) and her friend Paige (Superbad’s Martha MacIsaac) are kidnapped, raped and tortured by a motley crue of creepy-eyed drifters. How exactly they got entangled with such a blood-thirsty lot is neither relevant nor important. They have been abducted by monsters, forced to do things they promised they never would. They’ve become monsters themselves. And this inhumanity malaises over the hour and forty minute film, giving it the stench of degradation and seedy lust.
Escape attempts are hatched and the girls do fight back but it’s not until the four villains unknowingly leave the nefarious crime scene, looking for refuge from the storm in the Collingwood’s secluded second home in the woods that Last House On The Left’s proverbial crescendo is reached. As Mari’s parents (Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn) slowly discover what exactly happened to their daughter and who was at fault, the film soars, voyeuristically letting us watch the father morphing into the evil he so despises.
The Last House On The Left could be so much more, but sadly, it seems comfortable nuzzling in the same embankments other money-making horror remakes continually seek refuge inside. That it’s not just another money-making horror remake comes out through a great acting performance by Big Love’s Aaron Paul and a careful muddling of heroes and villains, but the density is all shrouded in been-there-done-that formulaic horror devices. An unhappy family is alone in the woods. A pretty, naïve blonde girl is kidnapped. A seemingly gratuitous shot of a bizarre talent sets up its convenient use later in the story.
I hate to further the media’s vicious need to denigrate the horror genre, but it’s hard to refute when promising, thought-provoking films like Last House On The Left idle, pinioned to their obsession with staying inside their niche. In a time where superhero movies are blossoming amidst dark undercurrents and stunning acting turns, horror movies have yet to follow suit. This isn’t the film that shoots the moon, but its emotional complexity might be the right pass left.
Better than Quarantine worse than The Orphanage, Last House On The Left is worth seeing, and it’s worth enjoying. But after it costs you a few hours of sleep and a careful examination of your own moral compass, ask why this film wasn’t just a little bit more. Ask why subject matter this ethically haunting won’t even be talked about as a candidate for the year’s best film. Ask why the remake of The Last House On The Left is just another horror movie.