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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

The Last House on the Left (review)

Worst. Housecall. Ever.

“About time,” the guy sitting behind me says about 20 minutes into The Last House on the Left, when the movie is finally getting around to its raison d’etre: turning cinematic violence into something a dude can get turned on by. The guy was there, you see, because apparently this was an easier turnon than, say, renting the 1972 Wes Craven film upon which this is based (though this remake is much more pornographic) or, indeed, renting any of the other 1,843,439 other “horror” flicks of recent vintage that assume that the audience is a vicarious sexual sadist.

Though there is something ickily more disturbing about this example than any other movie I can remember from recent years.
What happens, you see, is that pretty and nearly naked teenaged girls Mari (Sara Paxton: Sleepover, Soldier) and Paige (Martha MacIsaac: Superbad) decide to go off from the safety of public view with creepy Justin (Spencer Treat Clark: Mystic River, Unbreakable) because he promises them some really good pot. Wouldn’t ya know it, but Justin turns out to be the son of a recently escaped homicidal maniac known as Krug (Garret Dillahunt: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men), whose girlfriend, Sadie (Riki Lindhome: Changeling, Million Dollar Baby) — short for “sadist,” it seems — is a certifiable loon, and whose little brother, Francis (Aaron Paul), idolizes him. They’re like the Three Stooges, if the Three Stooges made torture porn. And man o man, do they love them some terrorizing of half-naked teenage girls!

The moral of the story, obviously, is: “Don’t smoke pot — it’ll kill ya. But it’ll take a long time to do it, and along the way, anyone watching will get their own kind of high… assuming they’re wired in a way that gets pleasure from other people’s pain.”

There’s lots of slow, gruesome psychological torture as Krug and his homies menace Mari and Paige, implicitly promising all manner of nastiness and brutality until director Dennis Iliadis finally stops pretending he’s doing anything other than sexualizing the menace — Iliadis appears to be getting as much satisfaction out of the wringing of dread out of the girls as Krug and Co. are, and hopes you are, too. The movie stops pretending when — spoiler alert! — Krug stabs Paige in the gut, slowly and lingeringly, in a disgusting parody of rape, and then stops bothering with parody and just rapes Mari.

I kid with the spoiling, cuz it’s nothing to what the movie thinks its big play is, and bizarrely revels in spoiling itself by revealing it in its ads, trailers, and presumably in its letters home to mom. I was just about ready to get up and leave the movie after the rape scene, but good thing I didn’t, because then I’d have missed how preposterously House plays its big, not at all clever twist, the one that it had been telegraphing miles out in case I had missed any of those spoiling ads and trailers: Krug and Co. show up at the remote, desolate house-in-the-woods of Mari’s Mom and Dad (Monica Potter [Saw, Head Over Heels] and Tony Goldwyn [American Gun, The Last Samurai], the latter of whom I almost feel sorry for, he so deserves better than this).

“What are the odds, man?” Krug marvels when everyone discovers who everyone else is, but nope, that don’t cut it as a way to defuse the absurdity of it. Of course, the film’s tagline — something about asking how far you would go to hurt the people who hurt someone you love — becomes laughable when you realize the answer is “Not far at all: they’ll come to you,” but then, by the time these mild-mannered parents start behaving like sociopaths themselves — it’s all in the name of avenging their daughter — the whole endeavor becomes a parody of a horror movie.

It’s an unintentional parody, however, and a vilely unfunny one, too, that eroticizes cruel violence so thoughtlessly that even the parental vengeance becomes sexualized. It’s a kindness to call The Last House on the Left pointless, and more pointed to call it revolting.


MPAA: rated R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine

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