Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Hills Have Eyes" (2006)

The Short Version? Neo-Con Propaganda as Cannibal Feast
What Is It? Horror
Who's In It? Umm... Billy Drago?
Should I See It? No.

When I caught this remake, it had been so long since I saw the original movies, I'm not even sure if I'd caught them all. As I remember, it was basically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre transplanted to a Southwestern desert locale, and most memorable for the body count and Michael Berry's naturally jacked-up features. I tell you this because I hated the 2006 edition, and not on the grounds of nostalgia. Now let me tell you why...

I saw director Alexandre Aja's previous film, "High Tension," on DVD previously. It was initially plodding and excessively violent, but the murders were hard core, and once the story got moving it held up on the suspense end. Most people had trouble with the big reveal in the final reel-- whether it was too soon or just wrong depending on the person. I agree with the former, but still saw potential in the work, especially thanks to the film's truly haunting final image. That's why I gave the new "Hills" a shot, but frankly, it just wasn't half the movie. Once again we have a very slow build leading to a relatively brief sequence of overwhelming brutality, followed by the survivors skulking around and having close calls with grim fate for the rest of the flick.

I was with the movie up until the main bloodbath, but then began to wonder about the point of it all. In a sense, I as an audience member was experiencing survivor's remorse, except in my version, I wondered why a just God allowed survivors. In another recent movie of the same stripe, "The Devil's Rejects," it was made clear that we had victims who, while hardly innocent, in no way deserved the sadistic torments inflicted upon them. In that film, due in equal parts to direction and the actors' performances, you were sympathetic to both the hostages and their captors, who seemed at times driven to kill despite themselves. In "Eyes," you only feel for the lost family what you project onto them, because they're damned near stock characters, and their reactions are typical horror movie melodramatic cliche. The killers' motivation isn't far off from Chevy Chase & Dan Ackroyd's parody of the genre "Nothing But Trouble," except with less dimension. In fact, the film is muchly a third generation copy, from a near perfect replication of the credit sequence from the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, to moments and directing cues from the "Texas Chainsaw" remake, to the cartoonish excesses and mutant redneck cannibals of "Wrong Turn." Like Eli "Cabin Fever" Roth, director Alexandre Aja cheerfully wore his influences on his sleeve in his previous film. Here, he waves a banner reminding seasoned horror fans from whence he swiped. Hell, the aftermath of a nasty gunshot wound to the head even had me thinking of what we missed after the opening sequence of "Kill Bill."

Speaking of waving flags, it took me until the final reel to figure out the point of all this seemingly random and unoriginal viscera: I think I just watched the first true Neo-Conservative slasher flick. Oh sure, Jason Vorhees' fixation on dispatching promiscuous, refer lovin', left-leaning camp councilors may be worth examining in this light... but we all know that was just an excuse to show doped up chicks' titties. Let me break down down this movie's overt text for you:

The U.S. government seizes control of land held by poor miners for bomb testing. These crusty desert types refuse the feds orders, hide out in mines, and are thoroughly irradiated for their stubborn ways. A half century later, a modern "nuclear" family, innocent of whatever crimes you might choose to lay at the feet of their government, are lured into the desert to be raped and butchered by the miners' amoral mutant offspring. A liberal who married into the conservative family is then forced to recognize the need to take up arms and protect his family and way of life from these desert savages. In a particularly transformative moment, our newborn hero even feigns returning to his bleeding heart, lily-livered pinko ways before skewering a terrorist with (are you ready for this?) a handy American flagpole (as inspirational music soars.) Our Dustin Hoffman shoots right past "Straw Dogs" into "Braddock: Missing In Action" territory.

Guided by the eye of a French creator, one has to wonder if this was actually intended to be the comically over-the-top vindication of Bush's overseas adventurism that Parker & Stone were shooting for in "Team America: World Police." I'd guess I felt the same as a Republican walking out after the ham-fisted politics of Romero's "Land of the Dead." Both films were amateurishly bad about allowing their subtext to overrun the the plot of the film to the point of negating it.

In summary, the movie is overly political, terrifically violent, disturbing in a variety of ways, highly derivative, and filled with lousy performances. I should point out that after the chief massacre, the movie starts dragging again, except when it launches into (literally) dizzying, nonsensical action sequences. I'm trying to avoid specifics in the film, but one of these portions sees a villain dispatched in a spectacularly wasteful Pyrrhic victory that once again makes me ask, why did you do that, and why exactly are you one of the survivors again? Oh, and why waste Billy Drago's naturally creepy features by burying him in latex? He's one of the only "name" actors in this mess, and let me repeat, I'm talking about Billy Drago here. Have you ever heard of Billy Drago? I figure he's going to be part of the next obscure reference wave, perhaps after Chuck Norris has been exhausted (with whom he shared screen time in, I believe, "Delta Force II". I'm more of a "Vamp" fan myself.)

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