Tuesday, October 26, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 25: The Last House On The Left (2009)

The question of censorship in cinema is a tricky one. For years, authorities in Ireland and the U.K. have made a living out of watching films and then banning them, especially horror and adult movies. I’m not keen on censorship; it concerns me when one adult is given the authority to be able to say that another adult may not view a film because of the nature of the content. Censorship of that nature is different from the age ratings that are applied to films in order to ensure that the audiences are of a level of maturity that they can understand what’s going on and draw the distinction between reality and fantasy, though there’s always one or two gobshites who watch the likes of The Da Vinci Code and then swear it’s all real.

The original Last House on the Left made it onto the 30 Days of Fright in 2009 as it presented a very real challenge to the notion of censorship and therefore the concept of free speech. If you make a movie that contains graphic, quasi-pornographic, scenes of sexual violence against women, merely in order to justify a series of on-screen killings, is there any artistic merit to the exercise? Is there anything that could be argued that would justify keeping that material in the public domain? No, would be my answer. But you couldn’t ban it. No crime was actually committed in the making of the film, nobody was really killed and nobody was the victim of a rape. There’s little to defend in a film like that, except its intrinsic value as a test of freedom of speech.

When I discovered that there was a remake of Last House it concerned me deeply. I was worried about the nature of someone who saw the original and felt the time was right to take another swipe at it, maybe update some of the effects, make it more gory, more graphic. Why would you want to make that movie? As much as I hate the original, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to watch the remake.

The Last House on the Left (2009) starts with a criminal, who is being transported to prison, being freed from custody by members of his gang. The prisoner, Krug (Garret Dilahunt) is a notorious bad-ass and generally naughty bastard.

Meanwhile, a family are going to their vacation home for the summer. Dad John (Tony Goldwin) , Mother Emma (Monica Potter) and daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) are the all American well to do family who are mourning the death of their son and brother Ben. After arriving at the house and unpacking a little, Mari borrows the car to head into town to meet her friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac), leaving Mom and Dad to have a romantic evening alone. Paige works in the grocery store in the nearby small town and while the two are hanging out there they encounter a young man named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) who tries to buy some cigarettes, but is obviously underage. He bribes Paige into making the sale with the promise of some pot that he has back in his motel room.

The two girls go with Justin to the motel and chill there for a while. Until Krug, who turns out to be Justin’s dad, arrives with the other two gang members, Sadie (Riki Lindhorne) and Francis (Aaron Paul). Things turn sour quickly as Krug is afraid of being recognised and is quite obviously a fucking nutcase. The gang takes Mari’s car and force the girls to come with them. Mari tries to escape, but fails, resulting in a car crash that triggers the gang into a series of violent assaults against Mari and Paige.

When the gang are finished with the girls they seek refuge for the night in a nearby house which, by shocking coincidence, turns out to be Mari’s parents’ place (you guessed it, The Last House on the Left).

John and Emma are good people and they are quick to help the poor folk who came knocking on the door after being in a car crash, that is until they figure out what those people did to their beloved daughter…

The Jehovah's Witnesses try a new tactic - one free young lad for every 15 minutes you manage to keep listening

Watching the remade Last House was quite an experience as I kept thinking of the original and kept trying to guess what was coming next. The remake is remarkably different from the original and, I’m surprised to say, is quite a good film.

The story has been manipulated nicely so that the way the girls get into trouble at the start is believably stupid, going off with some strange boy like that. The way Krug and the gang enter the scene is also believable as are their motivations. I found that as I watched the scene in the motel unfold I was afraid for the two girls and what would happen to them. Even though their fates seemed like a foregone conclusion I kept hoping that there was a way out for them. At that point I realised how different and better the remake could be.

Then, of course, came the violence. The 2009 Last House pulls no punches in the pivotal scene where Mari is violently raped and once again the producers of a Last House movie went too far. In analysing what is probably the most important scene in the entire film I have to acknowledge that I am completely biased against the very nature of the scene and that the best a film-maker can hope to achieve with a rape in a movie is that the correct emotional response is evoked. I guess the producers of Last House ’09 were trying to horrify the audience so that you’d cheer when the parents got their own back but the scene was un-necessarily graphic for that purpose, watching it didn’t make me want to see the parents get their revenge, it made me wish I’d never seen it.

However, with that scene over, Last House ’09 gets back on track, and the second half of the film is a triumph. The feeling of dread that builds from the moment the gang walk into the house is exquisite and the fear you feel for John and Emma as they do battle is on a par with how you feel for Paige and Mari at the start. The final scenes are text-book examples of great horror film-making. Thankfully, it turns out that whoever saw the original and felt it needed a remake were actually able to make a better movie and find something worth telling in the story. It’s such a crying shame that they handled the rape scene the way they did, as it merely elevated a trashy piece of cinema to the level of “better, not great”.

Horror films can, from time to time, offer serious value to a society; the original Last House on the Left is valuable as it makes us consider how important certain freedoms really are to us. The remake is doubly important as it shows that there is some small hope for cinema.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Last House on the Left (2009)

The Last Links on the Left:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0844708/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_House_on_the_Left_%282009_film%29

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