I know, I know. Questioning the existence of mass-marketed rape-and-torture-porn is so liberal-mushy-hearted, so obvious, so cliché and, above all, so boring.
Doesn't this type of movie—of which The Last House on the Left is only the latest—simply take people to the darkest corners of their mental landscapes, the crevices that historical atrocities and sociology experiments have proven—again and again—exist in us all? Hasn't violent crime actually gone down since the advent of this type of movie? And isn't the genre, after all, just entertainment?
All these things may be true and yet, do they mean we ought not occasionally pull over on our cruise-controlled road trip to hell and ponder why marketing sexualized violence against women is as commonplace as marketing bright white smiles and quickly acquired abs?
Moreover, of course, the genre is itself becoming obvious, cliché and boring. It's certainly all this and less in TLHOTL, a film that, though it manages to gin up a certain level of suspense through the knowledge of impending violence, will leave uninitiated theatergoers with little more than mild cases of PTSD and habituated ones with a disappointing sense of déjà vu.
But it's not déjà vu: You probably have been here before. TLHOTL is a remake of Wes Craven's 1972 film by the same name, which was in turn based on the Oscar-winning, 14th century-set, fable-like and vastly superior The Virgin Spring by Ingmar Bergman. The setup for all of these films is profoundly simple: A virginal girl is raped and her attackers, by a twist of fate, seek refuge with the girl's parents, who learn of the crime and exact revenge.
Through its multiple iterations, Bergman's morality play morphed first into a play on morality—in fact its utter dismissal, in the form of cheap exploitation—and has now become pop entertainment, oleaginous profiteering from the lizard brain. TLHOTL sheds the useless tail (and tale) of didactic pretense and emerges streamlined as box-office formula. Rape goes pop.
To say something nice about TLHOTL, it does possess some surprisingly good cinematography. One scene has the camera rush at a crimson-painted wall until the color premonitorily fills the screen. On the other hand, this same camera spends much of the early part of the film following the soon-to-be-raped 17-year-old's (Sara Paxton) swaying Bambi-legs or caressing close-up her budding breasts—all foreplay for that pivotal scene so loudly telegraphed in the trailers. How long until TV advertisements proclaim with pride that their film contains "the most brutal, graphic and awesome rape scene of an underage girl since The Last House on the Left"? Keep giving them money and we might soon find out.
The Last House on the Left
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
Written by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, based on the earlier film by Wes Craven
With Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
110 min., R