The Collingwoods are a perfect, all-American family: attractive, successful, blonde. Dad John (Tony Goldwyn) is a surgeon, mom Emma (Monica Potter) is a businesswoman and 17-year-old Mari (Sara Paxton) is a champion swimmer. The only blemish on their seemingly perfect life is the recent death of Mari's older brother, Ben. You'd think her parents would thus be overprotective of their daughter, but when the three Collingwoods decide to reconnect at their old lakeside vacation home, they think nothing of letting her run off with her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac).
Paige is more of a wild child than Mari and drags her along to score some weed from a boy they meet in a store. The boy, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), takes them back to his motel room, where the three teens smoke joints and bond as teens are apt to do. However, the party's over when Justin's father, Krug (Garret Dillahunt), returns unexpectedly with his brother, Francis (Aaaron Paul), and girlfriend, Sadie (Riki Lindhome). You see, Krug is a violent convicted felon, and Francis and Sadie have just helped him escape from police custody, killing two cops in the process. Fearing that the girls recognize them from news reports, the three criminals refuse to let them leave. When the girls try to make a break for it, they suffer the consequences. Although Justin protests, he's helpless to protect his new friends.
Mari is left for dead in the lake, while Justin and the three adults end up stranded in the woods when their truck crashes during Mari's foiled escape attempt. As rain starts to pour, they approach a house to ask for shelter, not realizing that it's the Collingwood house. Mari's parents reluctantly take in the stranded travelers, allowing them to sleep in the guest house. But when Mari makes her way to the front porch, near death, her parents put the story together and realize that they're harboring her daughter's attackers. Thirsty for revenge and with no phone service or transportation, the Collingwood parents see no recourse but to put their guests six feet under.
The End Product
The Last House on the Left isn't a great film, but it's a worthy retread that offers enough to justify the existence of a remake. It thankfully eliminates the odd slapstick-y element of the original that involved police officers seemingly culled from Hazzard County, and the acting and overall production value is, of course, much more professional.
However, it's the gritty, low-budget nature of the original that helped make it so realistic and impactful. The polished remake isn't nearly as grim as the original, but it manages to at least be uncomfortable, if not truly disturbing.
One aspect that hurts the film's impact is the decision to leave Mari alive. In the original, the hoodlums kill her, making her parents' vengeance all the more poignant, powerful and appropriate. Having Mari survive undermines the Collingwoods' motivation for revenge; wouldn't they be more willing to commit murder if they had no children left alive and thus nothing to live for? As it stands, they could be sent to jail, leaving behind a minor daughter to care for herself.
In addition to a certain grit, the remake misses the original movie's reflections of then-contemporary social turmoil, including feminism, class conflict and "white flight" from the cities to the suburbs. The 2009 version is, as remakes tend to be, more shallow, but it deserves credit for not going the total Hollywood route and turning the parents into MacGyver or the A-Team, building extravagant traps out of popsicle sticks and Lemon Pledge.
That said, the parents' actions actually could've used some of Hollywood's typical heavy-handedness. One of my biggest complaints with exploitive revenge flicks like The Last House on the Left is that the villains' comeuppance rarely seems on par with the initial assault, and this remake is no exception. Lacking the hyper-realism of the original, the remake would've been more open to flourishes of over-the-top violence. A tacked-on ending strives in that direction, but by then, it's too late and actually cheapens the film's finale.
Still, the film's structure is refreshing. Though not a unique experience, it's fun in this era of torture porn to see the tables turn on the villains, with the hunters becoming the hunted, the tortured, the maimed and the murdered.