The Last House on the Left

 

WHAT TO MAKE of this troubling exercise in creative depravity?

In 1972, Wes Craven, then a recovering bohemian, turned Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Springinto a very cheap, impressively irresponsible horror film entitled The Last House on the Left. Staying surprisingly close to Bergman’s story, the film detailed the rape and murder of a middle-class daughter and the subsequent revenge meted out by her understandably peeved parents. “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie,” the tagline blared.

Quite so. With its shaky camerawork, muttered dialogue and horrendous lighting, Craven’s film did, indeed, look as if it had been filmed by somebody who was actually being murdered by blood-crazed psychopaths.

On a technical level, this remake, co-produced by Craven, is a better movie than its notorious predecessor. The film-makers have actually thought about the dynamics of tension and, as a result, the picture will make viewers bite their knuckles as well as vomit into their popcorn. The performances are uniformly sound and – one weirdly inconsistent, blood-splattered coda aside – the hideously explicit violence is never played for laughs. The decision not to have the parents act in cold blood makes their actions somewhat less disquieting, but their final moral descent still turns the stomach.

And yet. Whereas the very shabbiness of the original gave it a kind of queasy integrity, the slick gloss surrounding the unnecessarily lengthy rape sequence in the new film engenders entirely the wrong sort of unease. Inspired by Bergman and eager to detail post-Vietnam disquiet, Craven could at least pretend that he wasn’t inviting mainstream movie-goers to take pleasure in the violent abuse of women. No such excuses are available here.

The sense of having collaborated in something distasteful makes it hard to appreciate the genuinely gripping last act. Indeed, the greater distance you put between yourself and the remake the more sordid it seems. Oh well. To avoid offense, keep repeating: It’s only a movie.

Directed by Dennis Iliadis Starring Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Rhys Coiro, Martha MacIsaac 18 cert, gen release, 110 min