Saturday, March 11, 2006

Family Matters: "The Hills Have Eyes" Remake is Brutally Inconsistent

Spring is in the air and death is at the multiplex. When it comes to today’s scary movies there have been plenty of examples of “the more you show the less scary it is” (let’s say The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake?) and there have been examples of “the less you show the scarier it is” (how about The Blair Witch Project?) Both of these films were in the horror genre, yet were very different movies. I believe Chainsaw’s attempt was to disgust just about everyone while Blair Witch just wanted to scare everyone’s pants off. The Hills Have Eyes wants to do both and it’s bloodily frustrating.

First off I appreciate the filmmakers’ (the makers of the no holds barred High Tension) attempt to go all out. You can’t remake Wes Craven’s disturbing cult film from 1977 and hold back. That film has some extremely unsettling sequences and to retrain in a remake would be silly. The Hills Have Eyes definitely doesn’t follow the likes of the PG-13 rated When a Stranger Calls or The Fog in an attempt to get 12 year olds in the theater. (Although there was a 5 year old joined by his family when I saw the movie) This new film is violent, bloody and just wants to mess with your mind. However, I can’t say it is completely successful. But of course this IS just a horror film.

The plot is thankfully simple: a typical American family traveling cross country gets lost in the middle of desert only to be stuck in the middle of a government nuclear test site which is inhabited by a society of cannibalistic humanoids. In most cases horror films with simple plots, that don’t take place over a long period of time are definitely more “believable.” For instance, in the days that pass during the Final Destination films do you really believe that the characters would really spend all that time yelling at each other trying to figure out how to cheat death’s clutches? Of course the family in this film takes some bogus advice from a local nut job with three teeth and ends up stranded in the middle of nowhere. At least they have a full camper with food, drinks and lawn chairs.

Before we know it the crazy, mutant locals are terrorizing the father, the mother, the son, the two daughters, the son-in-law, the grandbaby, and the two dogs. There are plenty of people to kill off, which the film takes its time doing (of course one of the dogs dies first, don’t they always?). You think the film is going to go the Blair Witch route and just keep us in suspense but then BAM, we get a completely messed up scene in which one of the daughters is raped while the other cannibal helps himself to the other daughter, her head nearly gets blown off and the mother gets to witness this before being shot in the stomach. This scene in the original film is bleak, intense and incredibly upsetting. The disturbing quotient in the remake is also up there. These aren’t your typical horny teenager slashings. This is a family unit being brutally tortured.

In a sick way this scene is the high point of the movie. The rest of the film goes downhill from there. You sense from the disturbing sense of the previous scene that the rest of the film will be just as grotesque and disturbing, but ultimately isn’t. The Democratic son-in-law must search out these monsters and kill them off in typical slasher style in attempt to rescue his baby which the killers have kidnapped. Back at the campsite the surviving daughter and teenage son mourn the dead and prepare for the cannibals’ return. There are typical shocks and jumps throughout the film but nothing that really hasn’t been done to death before. Of course there is plenty of blood, which is always an added bonus. The gore isn't really all that disturbing, just excessive.

Wait? Why did I mention the son-in-law was a Democrat? Because the film, in a not so subtle way, wants to shove down the audience’s throat the political dynamics of the these two types of families: your average Middle American suburban Republicans and then the cannibalistic kind. And because the government went all nuclear on these people they turned into human flesh-eating Star Wars creatures that elicit chuckles when they should be scary. So its the American nuclear family vs. the ACTUALLY nuclear family. Get it? People are stabbed with American flags. The son-in-law totes a baseball bat (baseball is of course an American pastime) and wouldn’t you know the cannibal family has its own left-wing activist who wants to save the baby. The original film did this much more subtlety and more successfully, but perhaps that’s because modern audiences won’t understand the allegories unless it’s painfully obvious.

I’m sure you could sit there and analyze the film to death (ha!), but in so doing you also realize the film’s ultimate flaws. But when a horror flick has enough gore to fill an entire Friday the 13th franchise, who’s really complaining? GRADE: B-