Revisiting an old remake.
At the time of its release, The Hills Have Eyes remake seemed to have been one of the most extreme movies released for a conventional audience. Director Alexandre Aja made of bit of name for himself with the 2003 French film High Tension. HT pissed me off quite a bit, and I have had that movie in my list for a review for nearly a year. Instead of watching a film I knew frustrated me I chose one that I did enjoy the first time through. I debated throwing the “Extreme Cinema Series” in front of this one, and I would be justified by what appears on the boards, but it just didn’t feel right. This is a more intense (and unrated) slasher film, but at its core it is still a traditional bloodbath. So, I am foregoing the special designation, and let’s go ahead and take a look to see if it has aged well.
In a lot of ways, it has. This film is a love letter to the original—something that a lot of remakes seem to neglect. Aja clearly knows the original, and wants to build upon it and show it anew for a new audience. Oddly, the technology in this film is so outdated it seems more like an original that is needing a remake. The music, plotting, and overall pace fits into the Craven style of the original.
The film starts with a bang, and then slows down to let us get to know an overall obnoxious family. The characters aren’t insufferable (another differing element from most horror), but they aren’t exactly likable. I get that family travels can be stressful, but it would be nice to see a well-adjusted group once in a while. We do get some tender moments as we are travelling in the middle of nowhere, and these little moments do help distinguish the film as well. I guess my overall point is that this film does a lot of stuff similar to other horror films, but just a bit better.
Our family is marooned in the desert early, but it actually takes a significant amount of time before things go absolutely haywire. The purpose of this part is to build suspense, and I suppose it works, but we all know what is going to happen. I have a further disadvantage here in that I know the story. However, we could probably stand to cut this opening part by about fifteen minutes.
We have a film that can be broken into two halves, but the separating moment is an intensely brutal series of scenes. Once the family is truly attacked the brutality and gore reach levels often unseen in Hollywood films. The build up (despite being a little long) is well worth the wait. This is one of the most intense sequences I have seen, and it has become a bit of sticking point for viewers of the film. Some people see this as Hollywood finally making intense horror, others seem to think it is simply too grotesque.
The attack is one of the more prolonged and sustained sequences of brutality—and I think it separates this film from almost any other Hollywood horror. We have clear and real stakes. These characters felt like actual people and we witness them being slaughtered. Up until the “Red Wedding” there might not be a more stunning sequence. Aja blows it out of the water here.
The problem is that this is truly when the film peaks, and the second half just isn’t as interesting. Instead of insane brutality we get a predictable slog as we watch the nerdy son-in-law become more like Rambo as he searches to get his daughter back. His shrieking “Give me back muh baby” into the radio seems cringe worthy and out of place following what just happened. We do get some world building here that discusses how the mutants came to be (nuclear testing). While these moments might be somewhat interesting they don’t mesh as well. I have a similar complaint with the original. The genre shifts from domestic horror to survival horror, and it just doesn’t work perfectly.
We do still get some great scenes in the second half. All I will say is a cooler full of body parts. However, we also get some spectacularly stupid scenes. All I will say is an American flag stuck through a mutant’s head. As the action continues it becomes almost a cartoon at points. I was onboard with superhuman mutants terrorizing a family, so for this to test my suspension of disbelief should indicate some problems.
The film quality maintains. The issues are more in the overall plot. I am somewhat saddened that Aja has not continued making interesting bloodbaths. This is definitely worth watching despite the flaws. 7/10