Director Alexandre Aja
Fox Searchlight Pictures
By JESSICA C. COGGINS
CRIMSON STAFF WRITER
Do you know what really happens when a bomb explodes? You turn into a horribly disfigured cannibal that preys on unsuspecting families in a remote New Mexico desert. Based on the Wes Craven 1977 flick, “The Hills Have Eyes” is a mediocre remake of what was originally a mediocre horror film that rides the tidal wave of recent remakes like “House of Wax” and “The Amityville Horror.”
Bob Carter (Ted Levine, “Memoirs of a Geisha”), a gun-toting red-blooded American, takes his family on a road trip to California. They are a picture-perfect example of suburban pleasantry, with two comely daughters, Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin “Lost”) and a teenage son (Dan Byrd). Despite protests from his “pussy Democrat” son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford, “X-Men 2”), Bob pledges to drive the “scenic” desert route.
After stopping for gas at a shoddy station, the Carter family receives directions from a shady attendant about a “shortcut” through the desolate and abandoned hills of New Mexico. Somehow, the Carters don’t seem to notice the somewhat obvious dark figures that dart around their RV as they drive.
When roadside spikes appear (gee, how did those get there?) on the highway, the RV breaks down. The disfigured mutants are not content to remain in the shadows, and when they emerge, the slaughtering commences.
Various members of the family are flayed, chopped, and even eaten by our hideous villains, who have names like “Goggle” and “Lizard.” You see, because the government decided to test nuclear weapons in the Mexico desert, their home, they have a vendetta against all of humanity, which they act out in the form of torture and cannibalism.
As the movie centers on Doug and Brenda’s survival, it turns gratuitously violent—and absolutely ridiculous. Buckets of blood are used and poor Ravin’s vocal chords must have suffered greatly from her constant on-screen screaming. Honestly, she shrieks louder than Neve Campbell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and all other horror heroines combined.
The music doesn’t help matters. At climactic scenes the score is woundingly jarring and Aleve-inducing: Rachmaninoff meets a bulldozer. You always know when the nuclearized freaks are close because of your impending headache.
For fans of documentary-style filmmaking, “The Hills Have Eyes” is a prime example of this form applied to the horror genre. With archived footage spliced throughout and a grainy lens, this flick utilizes the old-school horror techniques patented by the auteur himself: Craven (who serves as a producer of this remake).
The conclusion is a disappointment, since the beginning of “The Hills Have Eyes” is legitimately scary and even promising. As was the case with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” the movie is only spooky when the villians are obscured, indefinite, and inexplicable. Once the monsters are revealed, there’s nothing left to your over-active imagination—and in Craven’s flick, there’s no Joaquin Phoenix eye-candy to make up for this lack of suspense.
By the end of the film, when it reaches its zenith of gore and guts, you can’t help but succumb to laughter at the ridiculousness of it all.
But, this is a fair warning about the disturbing amount of violence throughout the movie. I advise against eating anything substantial prior to watching this gore-fest, but if you do, sneak some Pepto-Bismol into the theater.
Bottom Line: The official tagline for this movie is “the lucky ones die first.” In actuality the lucky ones died before this horrific film was made.
—Staff writer Jessica C. Coggins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.