Dir: Alexandre Aja. US. 2006. 107mins.
Whether it's ironic or just emblematic of a generallack of imagination is open to debate, but everything old is new again inHollywood - or at least as it applies to the current trend of updated andrefashioned horror properties. The latest is The Hills Have Eyes, a remake of Wes Craven's low-budget 1977 16mmfilm of the same name. Intense, effectively streamlined and stylishly depraved,it marks a step up from co-scripters Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur's last effort, the brutal and equallyblood-soaked French import High Tension.
Unlike its manyscreen victims, theatrical box office prospects for the film should befull-bodied, and toward the high end of the spectrum of the recent horrortrend. Whereas High Tension hadlanguage barriers to overcome in its Stateside release - something acompromised cut, partly dubbed, partly consisting of subtitles, couldn't makework - The Hills Have Eyes is adecidedly American story, even though it was shot on location in Morocco.
To this end, mostof its receipts should be recouped from young-skewing male theatricalaudiences, in keeping with similar tales of dusty familial imperilment like2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacreremake, Wolf Creek, The Devil's Rejects and even Breakdown. Repeat viewings will helpdrive and sustain significant ancillary value as well.
A gruesome ride, The Hills Have Eyes has the chance ofbeing viewed as gratuitous and morally bankrupt by stodgy types, while thosemore versed in or appreciative of the genre will recogniseit as a completely externalised manifestation of thetension between normal civilization and humanity's ongoing propensity forwanton brutality.
The story finds"Big Bob" Carter (Levine), his wife Ethel (Quinlan) and their extended familytrekking through the American desert in an '88 Airstreamtrailer on their way to San Diego from the Midwest. Eldest daughter Lynn (Shaw)and her mild-mannered husband Doug (Stanford) dote on their young baby, whileson Bobby (Byrd) looks after the family's two German Shepherds and follows hisfather's lead in teasing Doug.
Exasperated andsemi-petulant middle daughter Brenda (Lost's Emilie De Ravin), meanwhile, suffers the indignity of it all, her iPod and tanning lotion serving as her only defenses.
After stoppingfor fuel at an out-of-the-way station, the attendant there gives themdirections for a shortcut through the hills. The Carters take it, but blow outa tire and hit a rock cropping, totaling their vehicles. Bob and Doug each setout in different directions - the former back toward the gas station, thelatter further along the road, which is supposed to lead to an interstatehighway - but they each soon discover that they are not as alone as previouslythought.
Back at the siteof the accident, Bobby too begins to sense something is amiss after givingchase after one of the dogs. He sees something that freaks him out, and thisleads to a panicked spill in which he's rendered unconscious for several hours.
It turns outthere's another group of survivors in the hills surrounding the desert - asavage and bloodthirsty clan. It's from this point on, roughly 35 minutes in, that The HillsHave Eyes settles into a siege film. Modulated suspense and the "boo"scares of aggressively foleyed sound are traded infor unremitting terror and tension.
One thing thatabets this is the movie's forthrightness. In their adaptation, Aja and Levasseur are veryforthcoming and clear - as is the shrewd marketing campaign - about theidentity of the attackers: genetically mutated miners and their offspring,warped by the radioactive fallout of atomic-age atmospheric nuclear tests.
A few thingsdon't follow, particularly how the movie is edited.Why, for instance, when Doug returns from his walk, does he not ask about themassive wound on Bobby's face' The fates of the dogs, too, are awkwardlyhandled - they dip into the narrative when required in certain scenes butdisappear or are unrealistically shunted to the side in others.
Still, The Hills Have Eyes is about sustainedmood as much as anything else, and in this regard it succeeds. Boyhood friends,Aja and Levasseur have agood rapport, with the latter again fulfilling the role of art director, as hedid on High Tension.
What most helpssell the film, though, is the participation of actors you might not expect insuch bleak genre fare, the multi-dimensionality of the characterisationsand some savvy narrative choices about who lives, who dies, and when. Ofparticular note is Stanford (Tadpole,X-Men), in his most adult role, andthe young Byrd, of whom much is asked.
Tomandandy's pulsing, unnerving music registers assomething atypical but welcome, and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre shoots aslightly saturated frame that conveys a palpable sense of grimy foreboding.
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, based on Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes
Joseph Nemec III
Emilie De Ravin
Michael Bailey Smith