Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

There's a significant portion of this film that puts me in mind of the old Woody Allen joke about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Great Expectations. The first two acts of this redux (everything up to and including the trailer siege) are so close to Wes Craven's 1977 original that it might as well be a Xerox copy. It's slavish and imitative, jazzed up with needless fancy-pants cinematographic and editing tricks, and it all seems a bit laughable. (Michael Berryman punched me in the mouth.) The third act, though, is where director & co-writer Alexandre Aja decides to blaze his own trail, and it's there that the film saves itself from the oblivion of unnecessity. Quite simply, this possesses the most berserk third act I've seen in a Hollywood horror film since... well, I don't know what. Aja, in essence, has used his American debut to blow a big fat raspberry at America. The original was about the dark side of man and the hidden bestiality in all of us, and the remake ports some of that over. (Not for nothing that, of the two family dogs, Beauty gets killed while Beast survives.) But in addition to all that (of which, thanks to a lifetime of '70s-quoting grindhouse homages, I'm well aware), Aja gives us a film where the desert landscape hides American-made freaks, and only American values can triumph over them. The film's inbred family came about as a result of nuclear testing (the typical nuclear family menaced by a genuine nuclear one!), and one of them gets a big speech near the end where he gets to say, "You made us who we are." Unspoken in that statement, though, is the suggestion that while America made this particular disgruntled underclass, it will also destroy it at the first sign of trouble. I mean, a guy's killed with an American flag here while intentionally bombastic and anthemic music blasts on the soundtrack. This isn't subtle. So, in essence, what we have is a nice, happy American family banding together to brutally deal with a group of dissenting outsiders. (Is this revenge for freedom fries?) It's not really a good film -- as mentioned earlier, the first two-thirds are pointless, and the inane bickering among the family in the first act hampers any sort of identification with them. Also, the modern approach to making this film doesn't work at all, since the original derived its power from the stark documentary plainness of its craft. But as a product of its age, as a crazed political document, it's fascinating. It's a gore-happy Zabriskie Point.

Grade: C+


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