The Carter’s decide to take a family vacation. It’s been ages since they had one, so the whole “fam” takes off in a bit of a caravan consisting of one Winnebago and a truck. The family consists of Mom, Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), Dad, Big Bob (Ted Levine), Sister #1, Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), Brother, Bobby (Dan Byrd), Sister #2, Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) with new born baby and new husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) in tow. With roll call out of the way the family’s trek across the desert has begun. But like any man on the road with a mission Big Bob decides to go off map and take a short cut, where, you guessed it, their caravan is stranded with a bunch of flat tires.
Tagline: The lucky ones die first.
- Alexandre Aja
- Alexandre Aja
- Grégory Levasseur
- Country: USA, France
- Language: english
- Runtime: 107
- Budget: $15.000.000
- Revenue: $69.623.713
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It's so bright in this world.Published Full Review
A barren landscape stretching out in front of your eyes, dominating everything you see with nothing but acres of burning red stone and drifting dust. The nothingness. It is everything. This Martian landscape, this valley of stone that burns to such a point that it leaves you cold, this is all that you have around you. All that you can see, the nothing fills your vision and your air with its arid existence.
Your eyes are full. And your ears are open. They bring in the sounds of the desolation, of footsteps crunching across that aforementioned landscape, of your own hot breaths drawing in and out, in and out. And finally, the unmistakably surreal sound of a Geiger counter, crackling out readings as if it were choking on them, the sound of its voice escalating in a hopeless attempt to warn you of the danger that's all around. It tries to warn you. But the nothing is too big, too complete, takes up too much of your world.
And then you're gone.
So it begins. This is the beginning of a review, and I was trying to paint a picture of the beginning of a movie. And this is not merely a movie, this is a remake, the epitome of cinematic putrid waste, normally the cause for tears of hatred and remarks of seething distaste. But. To tell you the truth, this remake is.really damn good.
It gives us this desolate landscape that reminds me of Mars, that is supposed to be Nevada (that is, in actuality, Morocco) a world of drifting winds and something more. I'll get to that something more later, because honestly, the thing that impresses me the most of this film, the thing that made my mind fester and my head happy; was the nothing.
Yes, this is a remake of "The Hills have Eyes" (1977), the film that is oft disputed even among horror aficionados, with some calling it a gritty masterpiece, while others pass it off as a dull exercise in over-acting and tomato sauce. I myself stand firmly on the borderline, accepting its rightful place as an innovator, while still recognizing that age hasn't worked in its favor, as opposed to its contemporaries that have been remade (badly) these days. So yes, in that sense, even before I saw it, I was actually intrigued by this prospect.
Which brings us to the director, Alexandre Aja.
Aja's previous effort, "Haute Tension" (2004), stands unique as one of the greatest, most suspenseful horror films that has been utterly ruined by raping itself in the foot with a grand feat of stupidity in the final act. We all know that this movie essentially turned into something resembling Donald Kaufman's "The 3 ," (and if any of Tension's supporters call it "Psychologically taut," I believe I'll be assaulted by laughter), but even so, before that became the case; it was the strongest combination of slow-burning, sweaty suspense, and visceral gorror that had been put on the market for a long time.
So what does Aja, this man who we know can give us suspense, horror, and well, high tension give us this time around? Nothing.
Good god, this nothing. As the film begins, it permeates every frame, giving us vistas that serve not beauty, but emptiness. Giving us voyeuristic glimpses, not full on close ups of our enemies face. You know the story. A family of normal folks, led into a mouth of madness by a crooked Gas Station attendant working with a band of sadistic cannibals. They're led into the middle of nowhere, and then that's where they stay.
It surrounds them. It becomes all they know, these hills, these plains where nothing can be seen but more craggy peaks and flatlands. Things as simple as a glimpse of a silent auto-graveyard is nothing short of haunting (and reminiscent of Wolf Creek, incidentally). The nothing moves around them, becoming their entire world. And more importantly, OUR entire world. We're put into this big empty, and somehow, we can feel the breadth of it. We can feel this expanse surrounding us, silently sidling up with a gust of wind, preparing to move in and choke our lives out. The nothing gives us the fear.
But it's the people who give us the horror.
It's what the people have done to them, it's what the people do. It's how Ted Levine (probably most famous for "Silence of the Lambs," but whom I'll always remember fondly as the voice of the homicidal trucker Rusty Nail) gets cornered in a wide open space, it's how a family gets trapped with drooling maniacs inside a cramped trailer. It's how we bleed, it's how we die. It's how we watch our loved ones burn, it's how we hear our loved ones scream. It's horrifying.
As is the nature of the killers. Do you remember the original? Do you remember how Jupiter was described in the very beginning, painting him as nothing short of a hulking mammoth, a hideous beast put on this planet for the sole purpose of destroying all that he touched? The words, the ambiguity gave us something to be afraid of.
Something which was all but lost when we discovered that Jupiter was nothing more than a dirty man with a beard and a potato for a nose, who spends most of the movie bickering with his family members. Sometimes, the more we know of our enemies, of their desires and their methods, the more we lose the grip of our terror. The more you know about your enemy, the less they can surprise you. This doesn't happen this time around.
All we know, all we need to know, is their madness. Their madness, their sadism, their lack of empathy and sympathy. Which is all we're given. When all we see is bulbous faces and worlds of decay. When we hear a man with an enlarged head (he sort of looks like Belial from "Basket Case") hissing out the closest thing that this movie gives us to motivation. But while it's important to give us a context, it's not always important to give us a reason. Because no matter what you do, you can never really explain away insanity. These people give us the horror.
This is not a deep exploration of the human condition. This isn't a social satire, this isn't a caustic look at society through the eyes of people pushed too far. Yes, we can see traces of Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs," in transformation of mild-mannered Doug (Aron Stanford) into a force of vengeful retribution. Yes, we see violent, bloody, confrontations, we see things explode, we see near misses and close calls. We see a dust filled ghost of a town that gives me eerie flashbacks to Silent Hill. We see bats and guns, propane tanks and spike strips, screwdrivers and stones. We see terrible, terrible things. We scream at some, and cheer for others.
But the most important thing? We feel it. We feel the fear, the horror, the surges of adrenaline.
Which is all that Aja wants.
And that nothing is more than enough.