*Spoiler Warning* If you aren't familiar with the story of The Last House on the Left, then there are spoilers in this review. However, everything I have written here is shown in the trailer, but I feel a warning is still worthy. -Me
Not all remakes are created equal and while this is a time when remakes are one of the biggest downfalls, complaint inciters and problems with the movie industry, it isn't so much remakes that are the problem, it's the people behind them. Shitty movies are always abound, it's not just remakes of films that we horror fans hold near and dear to our heart that muck up the cinemas. However, they do encapsulate the many issues Hollywood has, namely the lack of creativity and respect for the art of film. Taking what once was great, only to churn out a lesser version for the sake of a quick buck.
As is the case with all cinema, there's the good, there's the bad, and occasionally we are graced with a remake that is done properly. This would be the case with 2009's reboot of the Wes Craven/Sean Cunningham exploitation classic, The Last House on the Left. The story remains similar enough to what was done back in 1972, focusing on two teenage girls, Mari and Paige (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIssac), that are abducted by a demented family of criminals led by an escaped convict named Krug (Garret Dillahunt). After Paige is murdered, and Mari brutally raped, the gang unknowingly take refuge in the summer home belonging to Mari's parents. Woops.
As was the case with the last Last House, this version is simply a modern retelling of The Virgin Spring, putting a set of parents in the position to face the people that would bring harm to the child that they brought into the world. One of the big differences between both this take and the previous versions of the story is that their daughter survives and (barley) makes it home, which is partly how the parents become aware that it was their houseguests that did this to her. While it seems like it may have been a commercially acceptable attempt to take away from the shock of having both girls murdered, it actually works on a different emotional level, as the father knows that one of the men, staying in his home, raped his own daughter.
What works about the film in comparison to the original, is the fact that it is a glossy and well-crafted update. One of the many complaints for a remake of a gritty film from our past is that the new one will be an overly pretty-fied version that will have no chance of capturing what was done in the original. However, that is what actually works for this incarnation. I've already seen a grimy and grungy version of The Last House on the Left, so seeing the story with a different pallet actually gives the film its own identity. To be a successful remake, there needs to be a separation form the source material and to go with a stylistic and well-crafted version is a major departure from 72's Last House.
Another major piece of the successful remake puzzle is being able to somewhat improve upon what was done with the original film. While I love Craven's Last House, and consider it an exploitation classic, it is certainly not without its problems. Two that immediately come to mind are some of the dialogue scenes between the parents as well as everything involving the two police officers. Overall, in this update, the dialogue is solid and mostly natural for all the characters, including the teenage girls, the rents and the gang of psychos. And of course, there is not a cop in sight, but it would be hard to not improve upon the police scenes that were found in the '72 Last House. Even if one of the cops was the leader of the Cobra Kai.
With Last House being a rape revenge film, it is that aspect that works as the film's vengeful drive. While this update is not nearly as brutal as its predecessor, it definitely has its moments and the rape scene itself is a tough watch, as it should be. However, there is an emotional additive that was not found in the Craven film, and after the rape there is an intense and uncomfortable quietness between a few of the characters, namely the female of the group, Sadie (as played by Riki Lindhome), that spoke volumes as to how heinous an act it was, even to a couple of seemingly heartless murderous thugs. No matter how bad of a person she is, Sadie is still a woman, and rape is one of the worst things that can ever happen to one, so this was a nice touch of humanity to see her slight but important reaction to the events.
Now, I'm giving this film a lot of credit, and while it is mostly deserving, it is not without its own faults. While the cast is actually quite impressive all around - with a group of actors that have collectively seen a fair share of genre work - they all sure are purdy. I'm fine with the parents and teenage girls being attractive – they are the seemingly perfect people that are having their lives thrown into chaos, so they should fit that mold. But why can't Krug's gang be at least a little bit ugly? Not a one of them is nothing short of attractive, and no amount of creepy facial hair and snarling can take that away from their looks. It truly speaks volumes as to the difference between 70's cinema and the cinema of today. Ugly people were put in film for that reason and David Hess is an ugly dude and so isn't the entire gang in 72's Last House, and they are a whole lot more intimidating than the '09 crew because of it.
There are other minor faults (some would state the film's final moment as one, which I somewhat liked in a throwback to outrageous 80's horror sort of way) and this movie is far from perfect, but director Dennis Iliadis made a film (with the help of both Craven and Cunningham) that takes from the original what was necessary and crafted a movie that can stand on its own two feet…even if the house isn't actually the last one on the left or not.