Every week in The Bloody Truth, Calhoun Kersten digs deeper into the endless back catalog of the horror subgenre.
Let me start with the fundamental problem of Netflix with its 5-star rating system. Films like The Last House on the Left (2009) are meant to be experienced, rather than “liked.” I mean, when it comes down to it, I’ll rate it as at least “Liked It” or “Really Liked It,” but it just feels so wrong saying that about a movie like The Last House on the Left. It makes me sick to my stomach and it’s supposed to, but without relatively limited vocabulary when it comes to film (I mean, seriously? Two thumbs up? It doesn’t get much simpler than that), it’s not surprising that Netflix would keep it simple.
But I digress. Most people’s issue with the film is in relation to the outwardly political sentiment of the original. While this is a “remake,” it should be noted that this is a term that should be applied very loosely. The original is brutal and unflinching and more often than not depraved. This remake shares the same sick sense of self that the original does, but shockingly enough, pulls it back for its audiences. There are some changes made that definitely shape the characters in a different light. When first watching it, the changes seemed minimal and unimportant in order to define the characters in the director’s own way, until larger changes were being made. Overall, it turned the movie into something much more optimistic than the original. The brutality of this remake is still disturbingly effective, but somewhat contained when compared to the first one.
In a day and age where “torture porn” reigns supreme, I truly believe that The Last House on the Left is a different story than most of the others. While most “torture porn” horror movies delight in their depravity and relish the realism of the character’s agony, with this remake you can’t wait for it all to be over. There’s such intensity to an already much shorter rape scene than in the original. I honestly couldn’t believe that Aquamarine (Sara Paxton, but she’ll pretty much always be Aquamarine to me) had agreed to do such a hardcore role. It’s part of that intertextual image that makes her rape and torture so effective, not that it would’ve been any less so with any other actress. Its the villain’s exploitation of her body in every way imaginable that makes the movie so horrifying, but not simply for horror’s sake. There’s a purpose to their exploitation.
But what’s most interesting is the movie’s exploitative nature before the villains encounter the Collingwoods. The camera pans and scans Mary as she prepares to go for a swim. It is made sure that the camera and the audience take in every inch of her physicality. It’s difficult to say why this is, but it creates a sort of shame base. The camera is instructing the audience to look at this young girl’s toned body, but shaming it for taking part in this act of voyeurism. After all, voyeurism is the name of the game here.
Most people’s issue with the film is the purpose that the original served. It was reactionary. It was political. It’s difficult to find that kind of meaning in the newer movie, but the characters that inhabit this world make it disturbing and fascinating to watch. While the movie isn’t perfect, and in some cases shows a little too much, it’s an experience. It’s not an altogether good one, but there’s something to be said about the disturbing authenticity of this remake that sets it apart from the other countless horror remakes.