Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Particularly American Sickness: The Last House On The Left Is Utterly Devoid Of Entertainment Value.

The Good: None.
The Bad: Everything: Concept, Violence, Gore, Acting, Plot, Lack of character development.
The Basics: With its graphic depictions of rape and continual gory violence in all of the most brutal ways,The Last House On The Lefteasily becomes one of the worst films ever.

I am, for those who know me, hardly what one would call a prude. In fact, I have often embarrassed my family by saying - at all the wrong times - "Life is too short for softcore." I have no problem with sex in films, I have little problem with violence. I do, however, find I have serious issues when the two are combined in ways that have no redeeming value. And where it is possible to debate it, I will. Both my mother and my ex- have argued, for example, that there is a way to interpret The Story Of O as a story of female sexual liberation as opposed to sexual domination. I don't exactly see it that way, but there is enough to the film that I can see how they could make the argument.

The point of this is that it is quite unlike me to say that a film is utterly without merit or redemption. Still, The Last House On The Left has leapt up with absolutely nothing to recommend it and a laundry list of reasons to advise anyone even thinking of seeing the movie - whether spending money on it or not - to think again. The Last House On The Left is unrelentingly brutal, graphic in its horrific portrayals of abuse and sex crimes and lacks catharsis, entertainment value or social benefit. Indeed, how this movie ever got made or released is an absolute mystery. How the MPAA (an organization I've no real love for) allowed it to skate by with only an "R" represents one of the truly great failures of that organization.

Mari Collingwood heads out to the lake house with her parents and her girlfriend, Paige. Not eager to stick around with the adults, Paige and Mari are granted use of the car and they head out for an evening of fun. They hook up with a guy and are messing around with him at his house when his escaped convict father shows up. Krug, a murderer, quickly illustrates his twisted proclivities by beating up, raping and shooting Paige and Mari as his friends and family watch. Mari, attempting to escape, is shot as she reaches the lake and is left for dead. In her attempts to escape, though, Krug's transportation is rendered useless.

On foot, Krug and his three associates make it in the rain to the nearest house, which happens to be the Collingwood house. Emma and John take the convict and his friends in, thinking they are doing something good for wayfarers caught in the storm. But soon, Mari returns, bleeding and brutalized with just enough left in her to implicate the people staying with her parents. This sends John and Emma into a vengeful rage and they stab, shoot and brutalize their guests.

And there is no value in this film. It is not scary, it is gross. It is not provocative, it is demented and like Emma watching John torture Krug, the audience becomes a willing participant in an experience that redefines the word "brutal."

I went to see The Last House On The Left because 1. I try to review everything I can and 2. I sat through one-too-many Regal "First Look" features on the film where Wes Craven and director Dennis Iliadis talked about how the film was ironic and a mix of good and evil and all sorts of other pompous things. The Last House On The Left does not hinge on anything ironic. After at least three excruciating sequences of human torture, Krug and his associates end up at the Collingwood house and this feels less ironic than completely contrived. Moreover, the conditions that exist - the storm, etc. - that prevent the adults from legitimately considering letting the authorities deal with the gang are similarly formulaic. This is not a mix of good and evil, it is the decay of all reason brought out on screen and almost all of the characters act in reprehensible ways that defy any concept of reality, ordered society or even humanity.

For sure, the audience wants to see the wrongs inflicted upon Mari set right. But slicing open a guy and shooting him does not magically unrape the victim. This is not about getting catharsis, it is about getting revenge and instead of showing how one overcomes, it illustrates how far down good people will get sucked when provoked. The basic theme of The Last House On The Left is not even "justice," it is "you did this bad thing, watch how much worse I can be to you!" It's sick.

What is more, watching this film carries the sickness from the screen to the audience. Because the film is unrelentingly, graphically brutal with characters who are virtually all abominations of forgotten humanity, anyone finding entertainment in this style of violence and repeated assault illustrates a base state that makes one question the real state of our society. The Last House On The Left is the closest thing to a snuff film mainstream audiences have ever seen and to enjoy depictions of rape and torment is one of the first signs of psychosis.

The Last House On The Left is populated by characters that are universally unlikable. Even Mari is not without blame; she hangs out with Paige knowing the young woman is a bad influence and simply goes along with the idea of going off and getting high. Does she deserve what happens to her? Not at all, but the film provides no absolutes, nothing that makes the viewer able to truly mourn other than the fact that everyone is victimized in the film. The Collingwood family quickly loses its humanity and thus any semblance that their characters are in any way worthwhile or worth watching. Yes, it is human to revenge, but not like this. In The Last House On The Left, the victims soon become the victimizers and it is not that there is some cerebral mix of good and evil as Wes Craven suggested in one of the interviews he was on, it is that all of the characters are behaving badly and watching the film is a tacit encouragement for them (both the characters and producers) to keep going.

None of the actors give anything remotely good in terms of performances. Sara Paxton plays Mari as so falsely virginal in the beginning that it is campy and no surprise when her character turns out to be more adventurous than she is initially characterized as. Similarly, Garret Dillahunt plays Krug with such monolithic evil that his performance never evolves. He is creepy from his first frame to his last but the performance embodies nothing impressive; he is called upon to do terrible things and the character's actions define him more than anything else in this case.

I find myself especially disappointed in actress Monica Potter. Potter was part of the exceptionally intelligent Boston Legal in its first season (reviewed here!). To go from a smart legal comedy to an accomplice in a film that essentially rapes its audience . . . there are no words I can think of to describe my level of disappointment. For sure, some actors and actresses might need the work, but Potter could have done any number of classier projects worthy of her time, attention and talents.

Indeed, my final words on The Last House On The Left are simple: it is utterly without merit. The producers, actors, actresses and everyone involved in making money off this piece of filth - there is no other word for this movie - should donate every cent they made off it to women's shelters and rape prevention education. Even if they were to do that, it should not encourage anyone to give their money to this truly (in the literal definition of it) pornographic film. If you're thinking it can't be that bad, take a leap of faith and trust me; it is at least that bad. Do something worthwhile with your ten bucks and donate it to any cause that promotes treating women like something other than objects to be victimized or any charity that helps women who have been victimized make the transition from victim to survivor. No one need watch this film and become a victim themselves.

For other horror movies, please check out my reviews of:
Wrong Turn
Friday The 13th
28 Days Later


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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