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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Hell House
by Joanne Ross

I canít imagine ambivalence being a common response to horror movies. People usually have such strong reactions to them, ones tending to land in the extreme ranges of the emotional spectrum. However, I must admit feeling ambivalent about The Last House on the Left, Dennis Iliadisís 2009 remake of Wes Cravenís 1972 classic of the same name.

 Iíll leave comparisons between the two versions to other reviewers interested in examining each filmís merits and shortcomings. Comparisons arenít at the heart of my concerns. On the one hand, I want to praise Iliadis for his gutsy and level-headed direction of a film with such unpalatable subject matter. I especially want to praise his cast, headed by Tony Goldwyn, Sara Paxton, and Monica Potter, for whom this surely had to be a mentally and emotionally-charged experience. But on the other hand, I canít help wondering why this movie got made at all.


For me, the question isnít whether the level of violence depicted in the film is justified -- it is. The story is simple enough: ex-convicts violate two teenage girls, killing one and leaving the other for dead. Parents of the surviving girl take revenge on the bad guys with alarming ingenuity. Practically speaking, the use of violence makes sense under the circumstances. The real question involves whether we need a film like this, however exceptionally made, since violence is the only thing it offers to viewers.

All genres are subject to trends. Across the board, film violence has escalated. In horror, the predominant trends are the New Wave which has yet to lose steam; torture porn; and something else akin to torture porn as it shares the same aims but operates without the Grand Guignol-esqe staginess and medieval torture chamber props. Like torture porn, this trendís subject matter deals with the deliberate infliction of pain by one person on another and the eventual revenge of the victim on his tormentor. The aim isnít to scare audiences in the traditional, benign sense. Instead, the goal seems to be eliciting an audience response which approximates -- on a much smaller scale -- the suffering endured by the characters in the film. We all know the best films succeed at least partly because people empathize with the characters. This new horror trend takes things way too far in the self-identification department.

An aspect I find fascinating is how justice and morality operate in viewersí minds as they watch The Last House on the Left and other films whose stories always seem to take place in the woods away from ďcivilizationĒ with its sobering checks and balances and accepted codes of conduct. I'm speaking, of course, about my own personal reactions and observations of the audience plus similar past observations. Killing is killing, torture is torture. We are naturally outraged and sickened as we watch mindless criminals prey on innocent teenagers without provocation and for no other reason than sheer cruelty. Interestingly -- and thankfully -- the director filmed these scenes with care while establishing a non-exploitative tone. Although horribly painful to watch, those scenes were made bearable for me because I sensed the director was clearly on the side of the two victims.

However, the audienceís outrage -- including mine --about the violence shifts dramatically (as does the director's attitude) when itís the parents turn to dish it out. Here Iliadisís camera lingers to capture every detail as mom and dad pick off the convicts one by one, cheered on by the audience who relish every bloody moment. The desire for revenge would seem then to sanctify the worst violence. Deep in the woods, miles away from any neighbors, the parents act outside of the civilizing influence of societyóthey are beyond the jurisdiction of the law, both spiritual and legal. Apparently in films such as these, and in our responses to them, the principle appears to be there is no law in the jungle-- what happens here stays here.

(Released by Rogue Pictures and rated ďRĒ for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use.)

Review also posted at .

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