In 1972, Wes Craven and his collaborators took some cameras and some weed and went into the woods of Connecticut to make a movie. What came of this trip was The Last House on the Left, a tale about a young woman and her friend who get terrorized by a band of degenerates so close to home that the young woman’s parents exact revenge on their assailants.
Fairly standard premise with a compelling twist, right? Director Dennis Iliadis thought so, too, apparently. In 2009, Iliadis and his collaborators took their cameras to South Africa to film the re-imagining of Craven’s 1972 disturb-athon. This time, a young woman and her friend get terrorized by a band of degenerates so close to home that the young woman’s parents exact revenge on their assailants.
To the remake’s credit, the revenge plotline begins much sooner and is executed less campily than that of the original. Also, the degenerates, including Krug (played by Deadwood’s Garret Dillahunt) earn their comeuppance with their very essence as horrible people throughout the movie. The audience has no conflict of humanity when Krug and co. get what’s coming to them. As far as storytelling goes, that’s a score for Iliadis.
Another high point is the heroism of the terrorized family. The parents (Patch Adams’s Monica Potter and Ghost’s Tony Goldwyn) convincingly portray a mild-mannered couple pushed to their limits in defense of home and family. Witnessing that transformation in movies is always interesting, especially when the audience has no problem buying the transformation. Potter and Goldwyn nail it. Score another for Iliadis.
But here is the part of the review that explains why the remake was unnecessary, despite the compliments mentioned above. (NOTE: This opinion comes from the bias of someone who abhors sexual assault in real life and simulated on film.) In both versions of Last House, Krug and his gang sexually assault the young women in the movie. And in both films, the scenes are fairly graphic and difficult to watch (unless that sort of thing entertains you).
In both movies, rapes notwithstanding, the antagonists exhibit plenty other evil behavior to justify that they need to be exterminated. So there really was no need to film the assault to reinforce the evil that Krug and co. embody. In instances like this, what doesn’t get shown can have just as deep an impact as what does. For fans of horror movies, the imagination often creates a substantial amount of the terror; we are disturbed more by what we don’t see than what we do.
The biggest downside to showing these scenes, as opposed to implying that they happen, is that being subjected to watching them forces an audience to be a party to them in some sick way. Although Iliadis probably doesn’t get off on simulating sexual assault (I certainly hope not), his nature as an artist would compel him to treasure the filming of it. And the value a filmmaker would place on a scene like this (that could have just as well been left out or shown less explicitly) gets transferred over to the audience, making viewers complicit in valuing such content.
On the flipside of that argument, Iliadis may have aimed to make the audience feel violated in the same way that Mari (Aquamarine’s Sara Paxton) does. And while I cede the possibility of that intent, I reaffirm that such violation would have been equally felt with an implied sexual assault. Imagining rape is just as unspeakable as seeing it.
So, sadly, I’m refusing to endorse a two-hour movie because of three torturous minutes. Yes, one scene ruined what was an otherwise fantastic performance by all of the actors. And no, I don’t think it’s nonsensical to consider simulated rape worse than simulated murder.
On the bright side, 2009’s Last House does demonstrate that the retelling of a story can improve its execution, especially if the original was shot while the makers were higher than Afghani kites.