(director/writer: Alexandre Aja; screenwriter: Grégory Levasseur/from the 1977 screenplay by Wes Craven; cinematographer: Maxime Alexandre; editor: Baxter; music: tomandandy; cast: Aaron Stanford (Doug Bukowski), Kathleen Quinlan (Ethel Carter), Vinessa Shaw (Lynne Bukowski), Emilie de Ravin (Brenda Carter), Dan Byrd (Bobby Carter), Tom Bower (Gas Station Attendant), Billy Drago (Papa Jupiter), Robert Joy (Lizard), Ted Levine (“Big Bob” Carter), Desmond Askew (Big Brain), Michael Bailey Smith (Pluto), Maisie Camilleri Preziosi (Baby Catherine Bukowski), Laura Ortiz (Ruby); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Wes Craven/Peter Locke/Marianne Maddalena; Fox Searchlight; 2006)

“A slick updated nasty version of Wes Craven’s grisly pop-cult grade-B horror flick of 1977.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slick updated nasty version of Wes Craven’s grisly pop-cult grade-B horror flick of 1977 “The Hills Have Eyes.” It’s an over-the-top gore-fest message movie about America in denial about its misconduct during its cold war nuclear testing program and in a more circumvent way its failed policy in its current War on Terrorism. The message delivered as a metaphor is on the money, but that doesn’t mean it always transfers well into a horror movie (there’s an overkill in brutality and a lack of novelty that only ramps up the set pieces from the original but does little else to improve it). The French writer-director Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”) and co-writer Grégory Levasseur keep the shocking narrative similar to the original which was meant to be scary stuff, but it’s now supported with a big budget and manages to get the monsters better makeup (the original makeup was cheesy and more laughable than scary) and improve on the special effects while making the narrative more topical, political and graphic.

The all-American faith-based vacationing Carter family leave Cleveland for San Diego on their RV trip, and get off the beaten path to look at the desert of New Mexico (filmed in Morocco). Given a short-cut to get back on the highway by a creepy hillbilly gas attendant (Tom Bower), one not listed on the map, Big Bob (Ted Levine), the Carter family patriarch, conservative and ex-Cleveland detective who now runs a private security firm, finds on this desolate desert detour they are far from help when their vehicle breaks an axle. Stuck in the sweltering desert sun the starchy matriarch Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) leads the family in prayer and then Big Bob’s “weasel” Democrat son-in-law, Doug Bukowski (Aaron Stanford), a cell phone salesman, goes in one direction for help, while Big Bob walks the 8 miles back to the run-down gas station (the cell phone gets no signal). The spoiled teen daughter Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) suns herself, while her impressionable younger teenage brother Bobby (Dan Byrd) runs after Beauty, one of the family’s two German shepherd’s, with the other named Beast. Beauty senses there’s someone in the nearby hills, and Bobby finds Beauty dead and gutted. But when Bobby returns to the campsite, he keeps it to himself because he doesn’t want to alarm the others. Older sister Lynne Bukowski (Vinessa Shaw) is nursing baby Catherine, and chatting with grumpy Brenda, who would rather be in Cancun, about how to make the best of the disappointing family outing.

Soon the bickering so-called normal nuclear family is targeted for violence by another nuclear family–a mining family who are victims of the nuclear testing program conducted in the area from the 1940s to 1950s when they refused to move, and are now pictured as a pack of amoral and deformed flesh-eating mutants that have colorful names such as Papa Jupiter (Billy Drago), Lizard (Robert Joy), and Big Brain (Desmond Askew). The blood-splatter includes: rape, pickaxe murders, an immolation, cannibalism, dismemberment, a gun pointed at an abducted baby’s head and various other unpleasantries. That the victims fight back as the dorky Democrat becomes an action-hero that even the Republican right-wingers can identify with, is meant to show that in order to survive in such a terror-filled world the innocents have to turn as savage as their enemies. But the more advanced message in the remake uses the silent majority family to make a more potent political statement about the world’s richest Christian country as a warmongering country who forces its form of democracy on a country with a different culture and how this country is left twisting in the wind because its faith-based beliefs don’t match the country’s corporate ways, where after praying the same religious people are caught not living fully as Christians but going after unbridled wealth and power through military might. This might be reading too much in a pic meant only as a commercial film but, nevertheless, in all the retro sleaze and lack of subtleties in its splatter there was at least an attempt to say something relevant about each archetypal family depicted (the haves and the have-nots), as a foreigner tells his American audience why the world now hates you as only an outsider can do when most Americans are still unable to see that they’ve been had by an incompetent and incurious administration of neo-cons.

REVIEWED ON 3/13/2006 GRADE: B   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/