March 15, 2006

Movie Review: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Is it possible to make a movie without a single likable character? Yes. Now, is it possible that same movie can be, itself, likable? Yes. Will all of us agree that this is that movie? No. We will have to agree to disagree.

Horror movies do not tend to do well with the critical world. For one reason or another critics don't often sink down to the level of the horror film. The baser more depraved instincts that humanity does not often like to admit exist are given free reign to rule in the world of the horror film. Why do critics at large shun the horror film? I don't know. I once suggested that maybe those who don't like horror films don't "get" it. One of the horror detractors I know turned around and asked me to explain it. I couldn't. I like horror films and I cannot give a truly solid answer why, I just do. The bigger immediate question is, do I like the one named at the top of this review? The short answer is yes. The short answer, however, does not tell the whole story.

Let me start by saying that it has been quite some time since I have viewed the Wes Craven original. That being as it is, I went into this with a pretty clean slate, no preconceptions based off the prior film. On a lesser note, I have never seen the sequel either. Now, with that out of the way, shall we move ahead?

The plot is familiar, anyone who has seen a horror film will recognize the formula. Some sort of experiment or project goes awry, some are left for dead, then in the future an unsuspecting family travels through the land, they are ambushed and picked off, one by one. Among the family members are the hero types who tap into an unknown strength to rise up and save the day. The reason to like or dislike the formula lies in the execution. That description also frees me from describing the plot, which, if you've seen the trailer, already know.

The biggest problem I had with the film was that I didn't really care about any of the family members. The family consisted of the annoying, or the flat. This lack of likable characters to root for is becoming an epidemic in horror films. Many of the recent ones just don't have anyone to like. Examples of this spreading infection are Final Destination 3, House of Wax, When a Stranger Calls, Hostel, and Wolf Creek. These films have elements to like about them, but none supply the complete package. I wish that more writers and filmmakers would give a little more thought to the "innocents." But I digress, I found myself looking forward to their deaths, and I wasn't disappointed.

Director, and co-screenwriter, Alexandre Aja was the right man for the job. He does a great job of giving us this gritty, dirty environment and making it look great. His filmmaking is raw and intimate, making you, yes you, a participant in the proceedings. Whether you want to be or not, he puts you right there. When you are meant to feel uneasy, you will, when you are meant to jump, you will. In a way he is a very good manipulator, taking you on a roller coaster of suspense.

The writing is a little weak, sometimes the characters do stupid things. For the most part, however, I am able to suspend disbelief as the ride is fun, and it really is impossible to predict how anyone, no matter their background, is going to react in any given situation.

The Hills Have Eyes moves along a predetermined course. As much as I liked it, and as effective it was as a thriller, there really wasn't much of a story. There were interesting concepts to be sure, but not nearly enough development.

Bottomline. In the end, I didn't really care. Aja sucked me in and took me on a ride, giving us the best horror film of the year so far. Are you ready to go on the ride?

Recommended. *** / *****

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