23 March 2010

The Hills Have Eyes

eerie! But not Indiana
Dir: Alexandre Aja (2006)

For too long, whenever I would wax lyrical about fantastically addictive eye-crack The Hills (which is a regular occurence with me, sister), the response from bemused 20-somethings would be 'The Hills Have Eyes?' I would then have to clarify that, no, the everyday Hollywood travails and tribulations of Lauren, Audrina, Whitney et al, have nothing to do with innocent city folk being brutalised and cannibalised by nuclear-radiated mutants. To the chagrin of many, admittedly, but here we are.

Anyway, I've been going through something of a horror phase recently (and I've been watching scary films. Hahaha, right?), including the work of one Robert Q. Zombie. I even made references to The Hills Have Eyes in my writing on House of 1,000 Corpses. So I figured I'd better see it. I really want to see the original, but I'm currently trying to get films from last decade watched, so I plumped for the remake. There is something quite charming about how visceral some of these modern horror films are. And it's nice to see how the genre varies nowadays, from the gorefests of later Saws and Hostels, to the more subtle charms of The Strangers and (hopefully, not seen it yet) [rec]. How's that for a jinx?

So yeah, The Hills Have Eyes got watched by me. Today, in fact. Not the best thing to watch on an afternoon, perhaps, and certainly not one for eating a pizza in front of (joining Saw III on that particular pantheon). But it's good. Weirdly for a modern-day massacre flick, it starts really slowly. There is exposition for days (not literally), and the meandering in the desert made me think I was watching a cut-price No Country For Old Men. Lots of desert, as you may reasonably expect, I guess.

What I liked about this one is the justification for everything: the characterisation is solid to a surprising degree. The family of victims doesn't just end up in the desert; they're no a bunch of annoying punks like in House of 1,000 Corpses. See, the crazy petrol station man has a stash of something illicit, and he thinks the ex-detective and the familia are on to him. So he directs them to a 'shortcut' to California: the eponymous hills, with their eyes. He's a bit like Ho1kC (is that the correct abbreviation?)'s Captain Spaulding, but with infinitely less charisma. But yeah, every time someone goes somewhere, or does something, it's for a reason. The film may not be original (an obvious negatory there), or especially well executed (it's not), but it's logical.

Well, it's as logical as a film about a society of nuclear-testing offspring living in already inhospitable desert can be. For some reason, when you have kids after nuclear testing has gone on in your village, your kids all look like Sloth from the Goonies. It is the slightly lax make-up that hurts the sense of threat the film attempts to pervade. What is supposed to be a Blair Witch/The Strangers/1000 Corpses vehicle for utter helplessness becomes a Troma-tastic comedy horror romp because, while the race of neo-Sloths do unspeakable things to people, they look funny. And that's not too scary. Actually, it could be more scary. But not in this case.

As I was saying, the characterisation is solid. Despite initially being a gallery of archetypes, the victims of the piece are pretty well fleshed out, especially the smarmiest of all: the cellphone salesman. Bah gawd, he's a demmycrat! He don't believe in gunnin people down! They took our jobs! But, despite the now-traditional middle class scepticism of the danger at hand, the series of events he has to endure sees him turn into a white collar being of vengeance and catharsis of a degree not seen since the heyday of Ash, star of the Evil Dead trilogy. I'm not saying he's anywhere near as cool as Ash, nor that Aaron Stanford is as iconic as Bruce Campbell. I'm therefore not saying his chin can kill, nor that his one-liners are a patch on Ash's. No. I'm not saying that. But bloody hell, you end up on his side in a massive way; if you don't, I fear for you. He's vaguely reminiscent of Paddy Considine, actually.

To sum up, then: it's good, but not great. Worth a watch if you like your horror. It's gratuitously gory, but strangely touching in places. Thankfully not touching in strange places. That'd just be weird. Emilie de Ravin, what was in Lost, is good, but has a weird American accent. A baby gets snatched, but it's not hers. That'd be a right coincidence. As per usual in the horror films (and pretty much any film, for that matter), everyone can take way more damage than they should. But hey, it's par for the course. It doesn't really drag at any point. And whoa: it leaves the door open for a sequel.

Well I never.

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