3/17/09

Review: The Last House on the Left (2009)


I haven't seen the original version of The Last House on the Left, so, besides seeing the trailer, I went in with a clean slate, hoping I'd like it, actually. And for the most part, it was okay, even superior. It's a fairly taut, interesting thriller that mostly works above the level of similar films.

The film begins with a startling, if kind of cheap escape sequence, with hooded bandits ramming a police car to rescue its prisoner when it stops at a railroad crossing. It achieves the effect of startling, and introducing bloodthirsty, demented criminal characters, but isn't too much more than a typical bloodfest.

Next we encounter the Collingwood family on their way to vacation at their house by the lake, mother Emma (Monica Potter), father John (Tony Goldwyn), a doctor, and daughter Mari (Sara Paxton), a competitive swimmer.

For a refreshing change, though they drive an SUV and have a lake house with a guesthouse, they do not seem to be the Richest People in the World, as many families in horror movies lately have seemed to be. They seem like a pretty normal family, with the parents just hoping to relax for the weekend, and Mari preoccupied with her swimming. They are also a bit haunted by the death of Ben, an older son who recently passed away, but not in a supernatural way.

Mari quickly unpacks in the guesthouse, takes a dip in the lake, and decides to find her friend Paige, a local who works as a cashier in a convenience store in town. She borrows the family SUV and heads out to catch up with her. At the store, Paige (Martha MacIsaac) and Mari meet a boy named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) who offers to sell Paige some weed if she'll accompany him to his motel room to get it. Though Mari is reluctant, she gives in to her friend.

This is when all hell breaks loose, with Mari and Paige (and Justin) kidnapped and soon fighting for their lives at the hands of the criminal gang from the beginning of the picture. I don't want to get into any real spoilers, so enough of that.

The Last House on the Left gets points for being so realistic, though much of the violence is presented as quite over-the-top and played out for some tedious suspense. It does have the sense of real danger at the outset, with real consequences and stakes.

And overall, the film mostly works. The acting is pretty solid from everyone, though Garret Dillahunt as the lead thug and Aaron Paul as his "brother" are principally just there. Riki Lindhome as their indomitable female sidekick Sadie tries the hardest to be as strange and frightening as she can possibly be, and she largely succeeds. Sara Paxton, Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn are just right as the imperiled family, and Martha MacIsaac and Spencer Treat Clark are good, too.

But there are two scenes in particular which wreck the film upon the metaphorical shoals. A rape scene in the middle is more leering than effectively brutal (though it is quite brutal), and a completely extraneous ending needed to find a berth somewhere sooner in the story, or be left out entirely. These two scenes and the way they are handled bring the film down from an interesting, about three-star affair, to much less.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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