The Hills Have Eyes
I have to admit I've never seen the original The Hills Have Eyes, although I've seen many similar films of that era which have scared me to death at the time and totally spooked me out for nights on end. With the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre I was so scared I couldn't sleep for fear of Leatherface leaping out of my cupboard next to me chainsaw buzzing away in hand!
So it was with excitement and trepidation that I went to see this remake, knowing full well what Alexandre Aja had done to me in Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance). I should've seen this coming, I was uncomfortable and uneasy from the opening credits and things just got worse from there.
Yet that's a really good thing, because there's one thing that I believe every film needs to accomplish, it needs to make you feel something. This film does that, and more. It makes you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, scared, shocked, surprised, disgusted and horrified. In other words it delivers in abundance.
Thanks again to the Edinburgh's Ocean Vue Cinema for helping me with this review and providing me with a thoroughly scary experience.
As I said, this film had me uneasy from the opening scenes, and actually by that I mean the titles. There's this great trick of flashing images and piano wire type music that just knocks you off kilter from the outset. That little audio clip is also used throughout the film at key moments to just unnerve you again, it's very clever and very effective.
Having witnessed some extreme violence and the total annihilation of a small group of people, you then meet the main characters of the film, stopping by a gas station in the middle of the desert, setting off on their journey. You already know they're close to danger, and as they're sent on their way you know they're heading straight towards it.
A couple more clever touches are added here, knowing the family are headed towards danger you are introduced to a baby and a pregnant young mother in the group, and you feel the worry and terror rise. You know they are headed for trouble, and you begin to wonder what horrors face them, in fact you just don't want it to happen or even see it.
Despite being a traditional horror as I would see traditional, it does a great job with the suspense and fear, at some points it builds it to the point you almost can't stand it anymore, and the thought is with you of maybe just looking away! Yes, I know it sounds daft but it almost really did happen!
Aja is already messing with your head, and he knows just how to do it to perfection. Something else he does well is produce some great shots, some of the opening scenes with his tracking camera shots are excellent to watch and really manage to give exposition without words. It looks great, the style throughout gives a feel of remoteness and a slight seventies feel to it much like the original film without going too overboard.
Many of the shots and camera movements through the film are really effective in heightening the fear and anticipation, particularly when he actually doesn't let anything happen, it's here that he's most effective. When you traditionally expect something, he stretches the scene, or doesn't deliver, and then he'll catch you off guard. Sure, there are some traditional Hollywood scares (perhaps to make the studio happy) but these are early on and very few. This whole style was particularly effective in the first night attack and also in the later scenes in the town.
There's plenty of surprises in the film, who gets killed, who doesn't, how and when, and when not. Once the suspense goes and we arrive at the horror it's out with the Hollywood scares and in with the real horror. Horror in the form I remember, when I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time.
Talking of the horror aspect, the special effects are amazing and make for some unbelievably horrific scenes, again though, it's more in what you don't see, or what you just see.
The whole premise could have easily turned cheesy, or tipped the scales too far over to the unbelievable. Yet it doesn't. It always stops short of just going too far, sometimes you can feel like the film is just about to lose you, but you're pulled back in right at the last moment. It holds its own and manages to surpass the original.
However, yes, there would be an "however", there are a couple of moments where the Hollywood cheese does start to appear, and you get the feeling that rather than avoid it Aja has embraced it and enjoyed it. The ending is very cheesy, but it gives you the feeling of Evil Dead cheese, there's a fun aspect to it and quite an acknowledgement on screen.
There's also the most frustrating thing of the characters making the wrong choices which are so obviously leading to trouble, it doesn't happen very often but there are a few of the moments that almost drove me mad. Yet I thought about this and realised that there is a reason for them. Apart from the characters being under intense pressure and in some cases blinded by fear and rage, making snap decisions isn't such an unbelievable thing. Also it's a superb device for building tension...stop taking it so seriously Richard and let yourself be scared!
The performances are very strong here, all the characters give great performances and you're totally with them on the fear scale - I'd have loved to have seen the auditions. At times they seem thoroughly scared out of their minds. Coupled with the excellent direction, filming and strong script writing, and you have a thoroughly satisfying film. It really gets to you and makes you feel a huge range of emotions, even after leaving the cinema.