An update of a very controversial film brings Horror Month 2009 closer to the finish line!
Screenplay By: Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth
Directed By: Dennis Iliadis
It seems that the common reaction to The Last House On The Left was a knee jerk one. A few people whose opinions I am fond of liked, although using that adjunct sounds wrong, it but the great majority found The Last House On The Left to be an abhorrent film. I won’t deny that, it is an incredibly abhorrent film, but that’s not a knock against the movie. The Last House On The Left is supposed to be abhorrent and hard to get through. While I appreciated this approach I can understand completely why others were not fans of it and had a hard time getting through the picture. What I can’t understand are the numerous voices crying out that The Last House On The Left is a piece of useless drivel.
Not only did I find The Last House On The Left deftly made, but it asks some tough questions of its audience, and is a surprisingly relevant film in this day and age. Dennis Iliadis doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing Krug, Sadie and Francis as sadistic and without any remorse for any actions they take. This is important because it builds them up as characters we loathe and this automatically kicks in the revenge response in our brains. We want to see those three get theirs, they deserve it after all. However once the violence against them kicks in the film begins to ask its most obvious question, is this what we really want? By taking the actions they do John and Emma place themselves on the same level as the killers. When that is the case, how can revenge be justified?
Think about revenge for a second, because I’m pretty confident that if you are human you have sought revenge at one point or another. It has been burned into our conscious being that revenge can be justified at times, but seeing the bloody truth of revenge in The Last House On The Left calls that way of thinking into question. John and Emma kill, they may have a purpose behind their killing, but they kill nonetheless. What does their violent outburst accomplish? It will not erase what happened to Mari, it won’t take away her pain or their pain. At a certain point this should click in the audiences head and it’s no longer a situation where you are hoping for John and Emma to mete out their revenge. At that point the movie turns around on the viewer and the viewer should question their own lust for revenge.
This brings us to the most violent act in the entire film, the rape of Mari. This appears to be the point of contention among most people. It’s not a pleasant scene to watch, but it isn’t supposed to be. It isn’t an exploitative scene though, that is important to keep in mind. Iliadis films the scene so that is rough for the viewer, but he avoids going for the cheap or titillating shots. He wants the message to be crystal clear, what you are seeing is a horrendous act, and you shouldn’t think any differently.
Another case of Iliadis’ controlled hand in the direction of The Last House On The Left is found in the contrast between the gore he is willing to show and what gore he isn’t willing to show. A key illustration of this occurs in the scene when John is examining Mari. It would have been easy for Iliadis to pan down and show the bloody aftermath of the rape, to go for what lesser directors like Eli Roth would view as a golden opportunity to shock the audience. Iladis keeps his camera where it needs to be, on John and his reaction to the truth of what happened to his daughter. At other times Iliadis shows as much gore as possible in scenes in where we are supposed to be happy with what we are seeing. This has a very subversive effect, much like the rest of the movie, because the typical horror response is “Oooh, gore, cool,” but by mixing the gore with the theme of questioning revenge Iliadis puts a not usually seen negative spin on the gore.
I’m not about to declare The Last House On The Left a perfect movie, truth be told it is a film that overstays its welcome. If it had ended two or three minutes earlier it would have been a candidate for best film of 2009. Sadly those final three minutes do exist, and they work against the picture in every way. Not only is the microwave bit incredibly stupid and over the top, but it is the one moment in the film where Iliadis loses focus and panders to the audience instead of subverting the expectations of the audience.
I’m not expecting this review to change any minds, but maybe it will give you a reason to at least think about The Last House On The Left for a few seconds longer. I do believe it is a very smart and subversive film that challenges the audience in a lot of different ways. If you do watch it then stay on the lookout for a pair of great performances from the almost always excellent Garrett Dillahunt and the unknown, to my eyes at least, Spencer Treat Clark. Who knows, most people will probably still walk away from The Last House On The Left and find it to be a waste of a movie. For me it wasn’t, and all I can hope to do is give you a little bit of my mind to chew on.