Title: The Hills Have Eyes
Director: Alexandre Aja
Staring: Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Billy Drago, Robert Joy, Ted Levine
Plot: After breaking down in the desert a family find themselves being hunted by a group of Cannibalistic mutants
Review: Out of the new breed of Horror directors of recent years few have managed to reach the same levels of the masters of horror who came before them, while even more frustrating the ones who showed true potential such as Eli Roth, now seem to have lost their way with Roth seemingly these days more interested in producing and giving questionable performances as an actor. Still since I saw Director Aja's debut film “Haute Tension” released in the UK under the grindhouse esq title “Switchblade Romance” and the more straightforward title interpretation of “High Tension” for it’s US release, he has been for myself a Horror director worth watching and this film only further cemented for me that reputation, for it is one thing to remake a classic horror film, but to be personally hand picked by the films original director and Horror legend Wes Craven after he was shown Aja’s debut by his long time producing partner Marianne Maddalena, to helm the remake of a film which was once branded the scariest movie ever made, leading to a fun rivalry between Craven and Sami Rami, who would also reference the original in a film I'd also give that title to “The Evil Dead”.
Teaming up once again with his creative partner Grégory Levasseur to devastating effect once more, as right from the start Aja lets the audience know that he’s not going to be pulling any punches, from the opening pick axe attack on a group of scientists, to his opening title montage which combines nuclear testing footage with intercuts of birth defects caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam, yet still hauntingly manage to double as convincing effects of nuclear fallout. Needless to say it’s a gruesome and shocking foundation that he only builds on, from this moment onwards, though showing a maturity to lure the audience into a false sense of security teasing out the next attack which again proves to be as equally effective as like the family the audience is bombarded with chaos and confusion, with the second of these attack seeing things taken perhaps alittle to far, especially as it descends into a rape and murder party which does have the feeling of Aja pushing things perhaps alittle too far, while at the same providing the catalyst for the change in seemingly eternal pacifist Doug (Standford), who is shown as an academic and thinker unlike his more openly aggressive and testosterone driven father in law Big Bob (Levine). It’s only after the mutants attack that Doug snaps and pretty much goes postal, much like David in “Straw Dogs” (1971) were an equally horrific (but unconvincingly acted by Susan George) attack on his wife leads him to abandon his academic persona for more primal urges and it’s a key reference used by Aja and further highlighted by Doug’s broken glasses.
When it comes to the gore, once again Aja isn’t pulling punches as to be expected and if revenge is a dish best served cold, then the revenge Doug hands out is Icy cold with his change startling to say the least, as he changes from someone who actively avoids confrontation, to a man running on pure survival mode as he turns the tables on the mutants by actively hunting them down with the family dog Beast whom also seems to undergo a similar change for some unknown reason) . The gore quota is giddily high here, as limbs are lopped off and violence is kept primal especially at the hands of the mutants, who at the same time they still maintain a high level of intelligence and able to pull off planned attacks on the family and seen communicating via Walkie-Talkie, yet frustratingly there is little depth given to the mutants beyond their surface abnormalities, so any theories on the chain of leadership is left with the audience to figure out for themselves. Still I loved the fact that the mutants live in a town made for nuclear testing and that they are creations as a result of those weapons of death and destruction, characteristics they now choose to embody.
The mutant appearances are all very much grounded in reality with Aja and Levasseur looking at the effects of nuclear fallout in places such as Chernobyl and Hiroshima, aswell as more bizarrely a Pogues concert which the pair attended while in Chicago, while the effects used are a highly impressive mixture of flawless CGI and old school effects, allowing them to create some hideous looking creations, with each of the mutants having their own individual look, making them easy to distinguish between and allowing what little characterisation there is to come across alot clearer.
While it might have the disadvantage of being a remake, Aja has managed to rise above the comparisons to the original and is very much it’s own creation and more than capable of holding it’s own against the original, making it one of the few remakes to match up to the original, while Aja manages to bring enough original ideas to prevent the feeling of over familiarity which often comes with remakes and it only makes it more of a shame that he opted not to come back for the sequel, which although more original, lack any of the edge that this film has even if the tastefulness of some of the scenes can certainly be questioned, while at the same time only furthering my opinion that Aja is a modern horror director worth keeping an eye on.