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DVD Review: The Last House on the Left (2009)

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In 1972, Wes Craven directed The Last House on the Left, which shocked audiences with its brutal scenes and horrific premise, as well as influenced many horror films (and franchises) to follow, including “torture porn” such as Saw. (My father told me that when he saw the original The Last House on the Left in the theater, many movie-goers, himself included, got up and left during the infamous rape scene, never to return to the theater.)

Having such a reputation already under the film’s proverbial belt, and following in the footsteps of the many classic horror film remakes of the last few years (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween, etc.) ensures that a remake of The Last House on the Left is a timely nod to a classic.

This remake strays only slightly from the original premise, with the Collingwood family of three (mother, father, daughter) headed out to their remote lakeside vacation home for some rest and relaxation, having recently undergone the loss of their only son/brother (a plot hole that’s referenced but not explained to my satisfaction). When daughter Mari (Sara Paxton, Sydney White) borrows the family car and heads to “town” to see her friend, Paige (Martha MacIsaac, Superbad), the two girls decide to look for fun/trouble by way of young, mysterious, cute, new-in-town Justin (Spencer Treat Clark, Mystic River), who says he can score them some primo weed back at his hotel.

Unfortunately, Justin is the son of prison escapee Krug (Garrett Dillahunt, television’s Life and cable’s Damages) a very bad dude with a very bad gang of pals — Aaron Paul (cable’s Breaking Bad and Big Love) as “Weasel,” and Riki Lindholme (television’s Gilmore Girls) as Krug’s girlfriend, Sadie. The four are on the run from the law and hiding out until their next crime spree.

Thus, an “innocent” afternoon of smoking weed crashes to a halt when Krug and Co. return to the hotel and bust up the party, categorizing the girls as witnesses after the fact. Krug decides the best thing to do is dispose of the girls, but not before having some fun with them. Taking Mari’s car, they all drive into the woods, and after some horrible psychological torture and physical brutality, the girls are left for dead in the forest.

But car trouble doesn’t let the gang go far, and they wind up knocking on Mari’s parents (Tony Goldwyn, Kiss the Girls, television’s Without a Trace and Monica Potter, Saw, television’s Boston Legal) door looking for a phone, some medical attention, and shelter for the night.

Soon, the pieces fall into place and the parents realize they are harboring the very people who violated their daughter, and they serve a big plate of revenge piping hot.

Having never seen the original, I enjoyed The Last House on the Left remake, and especially thought Paxton and Treat Clark did exceptionally well in their roles. Yes, I had to suspend belief somewhat, particularly with the casting of the weak-seeming Potter, but in all I was thoroughly entertained and after it was all over, I was left thinking about what I would do in the given situation.

The remake was penned by writers Adam Alleca (in his first writing credit) and Carl Ellsworth (Disturbia). The Last House on the Left was originally shot on 16mm and appears as low budget as it apparently was. The remake, however, in the hands of director Dennis Iliadis and shot by DP Sharone Meir, is beautiful and crystal clear, making for woodsy scenes that appear idyllic and serene but are actually full of terror and pain.

The DVD features a handful of deleted scenes and a standard fare making-of featurette. The film itself has a running time of 1 hour 54 minutes (unrated edition) and 1 hour 50 minutes (theatrical). It is presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is rated R “for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use / unrated.” It features subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French, and sound in Dolby Digital 5.1.

The Last House on the Left isn’t a horror film per se, and while there is a lot of violence, there’s not too much bloodshed. Instead, it’s more of a revenge-thriller, with palpable tension that builds to a climactic end.

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