|release date||March 10 2006|
|writer||Alex Aja, Gregory Levasseur|
|starring||Ezra Buzzington, Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Ted Levine, Vinessa Shaw, Emilie de Ravin|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
When I saw High Tension at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, I boldly stated that director Alexandre Aja was the savior of the slasher sub-genre. Cut to 3 years later, every filmmaker is trying to top one another in the shock department. Since the success of Saw, torture is audience’s favorite flavor of the moment. We’ve seen Rob Zombie kick our asses with The Devil’s Rejects, Eli Roth gross us out with Hostel and let’s not forget the unflinching brutality of Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek. There seems to be very few uncharted areas a filmmaker can go when it comes to shocking the audience anymore. Aja definitely needed to prove that High Tension wasn’t a fluke. Remaking the Wes Craven classic, The Hills Have Eyes only adds to the pressure and skepticism that horror fans will no doubt have.
The premise remains same. On their way to California, a family gets led toward a supposed shortcut through the desert which leads them right into the hands of a blood-thirsty, deformed family. That is essentially it plot-wise but like the original, it’s the ordeal that really matters. The structure stays quite faithful to the original but what really sets the remake apart is that it doesn’t focus on the juxtaposition of the gentle All-American family versus the violent Neanderthal-like family. Aja’s film doesn’t care about mirroring Craven’s fascinating look at the nature of violence within us all. Like High Tension, the antagonist is essentially a one-dimensional killing machine. Sure, this version focus’ more on the nuclear testing angle but it’s just an excuse to make them look like monsters externally more as well. Don’t take this the wrong way…this is a compliment. The sadism of the family only helps to heighten the tension. Like any memorable nightmare, the opposition’s one track goal of pain and punishment, makes the experience all the more frightening. Aja’s trademark visceral, primal energy that stained every frame of his debut film has surprisingly been surpassed with this second feature. It gives the film its distinct vision; to keep the viewer’s heart pumping like mad.
It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss The Hills Have Eyes 2006 as pure exploitive trash if it wasn’t for the high level of craftsmanship going on here. KNB has once again proven that they are the kings when it comes to make-up effects. The family looks terrifying but more so because their appearances is convincing and realistic. A great deal of research has obviously been done to capture the varied looks of each deformed member. Also, when it comes to gore, this film definitely doesn’t shy away from any of it. Folks die in all sorts of inventive and nasty ways.
The cinematography by High Tension’s Maxime Alexandre is both gritty and beautifully. The vistas of the desert really capture the isolation vividly especially the sequence within a crater. It’s stunning when the feeling of claustrophobia is evoked in such a massive environment. Also, big props must be given to the cast on both sides of the camp. Their complete investment into their respective roles only helps to make the horror work believably without ever feeling ridiculous. An aspect that is easier said than done.
Another one of the film’s strengths worth noting is the brilliant score by Tomandandy. Unlike the recycled junk that passes for music in mainstream horror these days, the soundtrack here is downright unnerving. A generic score can turn a potentially great horror film to a mere good one. Case and point; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Tomandandy’s score keeps the suspense and intensity level up throughout. It’s not much of a surprise since when I interviewed Aja for High Tension; this area was a definite importance to the success of any horror film in his opinion.
The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is unrelentingly ferocious to the very end. It is equally effective as the original but for entirely different reasons. Every possible scenario and story has been told to death. Originality is an overused term in my opinion. What sets great directors like the ones I’ve mentioned in this review from the hacks is vision, plain and simple. Alexandre Aja masterfully builds suspense and pulls off ever scare like the very best the genre has ever seen. This remake doesn’t break any new ground but its atmosphere and sheer intensity is undeniable.
Like the antagonists of both his films, Aja’s only objective is to scare the living hell out the audience. A great horror film will either be creepy, frightening, atmospheric or disturbing. As long as the movie evokes some sort of instinctive emotion that sticks to you, it’s done its job. This film does all of that in 107 running time to the max. It’s the best horror film so far this year and quite frankly, I don’t see how it’ll be beat…and yes, I saw and enjoyed The Descent. The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is blood-soaked, grindhouse cinema at its best.