Things To Do

The Last House on the Left (R) **½

Photo: Lacey Terrell.
Photo: Lacey Terrell.

By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

The violence is immediate, unflinching and relentless in The Last House on the Left, a movie of shocking sadism and cruelty.

Most shocking of all is the performance of Sara Paxton. The onetime teen star (Aquamarine) is objectified by the camera long before the horrific, graphic rape that is the triggering event in this remake of the 1972 Wes Craven movie. But Paxton’s humanity shines through, and as her character Mari suffers, our hearts break for her.

The new film is torture porn at its most tortuous. Well-crafted and faithful to Craven’s manipulative vengeance plot, it makes violence violent again. The grisly, soulless horror of today often seems designed for sniggering, soul-deadened teens and their arrested-development elders, people who cackle at each callous killing the ingenious effects and makeup people can deliver. There’s little sniggering in Last House. This is horror as every parent’s worst nightmare — a daughter peer-pressured into one bad decision and its awful consequences.

Mari is the over-achieving daughter of a doctor (Tony Goldwyn) and housewife (Monica Potter), a family still in mourning over a dead son. A weekend at the country house will help. Except Mari wants to go to town, hang with her old pal Paige, a clerk at the local convenience store. A cute, brooding boy (Spencer Treat Clark) shows up and offers to sell some weed. Paige takes the bait.

Dread hangs over these developments because of the first moments of the movie, during which a murderer (Garret Dillahunt) is sprung on the way to prison, and the cops escorting him are slaughtered in a scene almost unrivaled in its savagery. We know three psychopaths are on the loose, and we know the escapee has a son.

One of the reasons the horror is so personal is the use of unnerving close-ups. The camera lingers over a terrified or cruel expression, or more luridly, over Mari dressing and undressing. As such, director Dennis Iliadis provokes admiration and revulsion. Characters are shell-shocked, and bodies endure stunning injuries and abuse. Last House is a horror movie that illustrates the difference between cringing and feeling.

But Iliadis and Co. (Craven and his son Jonathan took producing credits) are still working within a weary formula and pandering to a demographic. You can admire the artistry. But deep down, you know they were just pushing the envelope for an audience that only demands that this House be that much uglier than the last House.

Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Monica Potter.

Director: Dennis Iliadis.

Screenwriters: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth. Based on the screenplay by Wes Craven.

Producers: Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, Marianne Maddalena.

A Rogue Pictures release. Running time: 105 minutes. Sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity, some drug use. Playing at area theaters.