Blu-ray Review – The Last House on the Left (2009)
There’s something slightly unsettling to me about Hollywood’s embrace of exploitation-type films. There’s a power in the low-budget nature of the original films that current filmmakers are emulating. And so I approached “The Last House on the Left,” yet another remake of a notorious horror film, with a great deal of skepticism.
The original 1972 film is a horror classic. It was a raw low-budget film that was a bit of a shock for audiences at that time. There’s a sadistic streak in that film that is still unsettling today. How could a modern film recapture that spirit? Well, with mixed results.
For those unaware of the plot, one could say that it’s two films in one. The first half is more of a criminal exploitation film. In this retelling, Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) and her family are going to their vacation home. Mari goes to hang out with her friend Paige. While Mari doesn’t want to get into any trouble, Paige wants to find some marijuana, and a guy at the convenience store Paige works at promises he has something good.
I’m sure you know where it goes from there. The guy, Justin, is with his father, uncle and a rather unstable woman. They are on the run after a daring police escape. Justin’s fugitive companions aren’t too happy to encounter these two girls when they return to the hotel. The girls are taken captive, and that’s just the start of the violence. A car crash eventually leads to rape and murder.
The assailants need a place to take refuge from a storm that hits, and this is where the film morphs into a revenge pic. Of course, the place where the fugitives wind up is the vacation home of Mari. The parents (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) slowly start to figure out who these drifters are and must decide what they are going to do about it.
My initial reactions of the film weren’t too positive. We get a big car crash, which didn’t seem to stick with the spirit of the original. And seeing Mari in a swimming pool was a very beautiful, pristine image, so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was going to be used in a deodorant commercial or something. It was well shot but just so sterile.
That was my general impression through much of the crime part of the film. It was just too bright; it had too much of a sheen over it. Despite some strong performances (I thought Paxton was a standout), I just didn’t find myself getting into the film all that much. Not surprisingly, the rape and humiliation of the girls was much tamer than the original, which was more depraved and over the top.
But as the revenge portion of the film started, I found myself getting more involved in the film. It turns out Hollywood does revenge much better than exploitation. Not too surprising actually. It certainly helped that things got much darker. And I don’t mean in subject matter. The film actually got darker as the storm takes out the electricity and the house becomes lit by candles. The shadows add a lot to the film, and the first half could have used some of this mood.
I do see how the coloring of the film indicates the progression into darkness for all the characters. As the parents allow their inner-monsters to emerge, it stands to reason things get darker. But the high-budget gloss early in the film didn’t do it any favors; I found it emotionally distancing.
Overall, I think this was one of the more successful horror remakes of recent years. I think it helps that the film’s second half was better than the first, so it’s easier to overlook the clunky beginning. The final note of the film is a bit much, but I understand the temptation for one last scare.
“The Last House on the Lef” looks pretty darn good on Blu-ray. As I said earlier, the first half of the film is bright and sunny, and it looks particularly striking. That moment with Mari in the swimming pool that I described earlier was a very striking image to me just because the image looked so pristine. As the darkness entered into the film, the image stays pretty strong, but it did seem like there was some smearing with the blacks.
There are times when the darkness just sort of globs together. It’s a relatively minor issue in what is otherwise a pretty strong presentation.
The audio isn’t going to blow anyone’s hair back, but there’s nothing really wrong with it either. The dialogue is always easy to understand, but the effects were a bit underwhelming. It was nice not to have an audio track where the action overwhelms the dialogue, but this track might be a bit too subdued.
The Blu-ray comes with the theatrical cut of the film as well as an unrated version. Aside from that, the extras are really weak. There’s not much of anything there. There are a handful of deleted scenes. Most of them are just extended versions of scenes already in the film. These extensions really don’t bring too much new to the table. Their inclusions would have just altered the pacing of the film. Overall, they were pretty unnecessary.
The only other extra is “A Look Inside.” You would think by the name of it that it might be a little featurette or something. If this is what passes as a featurette now, then we are in trouble. It’s basically just a trailer with a few soundbites. It only runs 3 minutes. There’s really little reason for this to even be included.
It’s a Wrap!
“The Last House on the Lef” was a bit of a surprise to me. I was expecting the worst from it, and while I thought it had a rocky beginning, the revenge portion of the film was taut and suspenseful. As remakes go, this is certainly one of the better ones among the seemingly never ending string. The Blu-ray presentation is really solid, but the extras leave a lot to be desired. And that’s being very kind. It would have been nice to see some more extras, but fans of the film should be happy to see the film looking pretty good on Blu-ray.
Film: 3 out of 5
Audio/Video: 3.5 out of 5
Extras: 1.5 out of 5