Hell in them thar hills
The hills are alive with the sound of screaming
Let’s get this straight from the beginning: French filmmaker Alexandre (Haut Tension) Aja’s remake of the old Wes Craven drive-in cult classic is a horror film in the most explicit meaning of the word. In its strictest sense, a horror film is not to be user-friendly. Horror films are not to be pleasant company. A properly constructed horror film should be met with hostility and repugnance from the casual viewer, and in this regard the remake is a success, and in some regards a better horror film than the original.
Aja’s piece maintains a fairly faithful adherence to the source material: a Red Stater (Ohio in the original, unstated here) nuclear family composed of right-winger Bob, his ex-hippie cum born-again wife, their three offspring, grandchild and liberal son-in-law are crossing the New Mexico desert in an SUV with refurbished Airstream in tow. American flag fluttering from the aerial, they pull into a crapulously remote gas station for directions, and are promptly sent into the mouth of Hell. The eponymous hills are alive with the Southwest equivalent of the Sawney Bean clan, a nuclear family in the literal sense, mutated by atomic tests conducted by the government mid-20th century. And they aren’t particularly partial to outsiders … unless they’re served in a stew.
From that premise you can pretty much determine where things are gonna go. It’s all going to boil down to the Lefty, being forced by circumstance (namely the ineffectiveness of gun-totin’ Pops when it comes to protecting the family unit), going all Death Wish and divesting himself of his belief system to lay down some of that Old Testament-style retribution on the mutants as the Spaghetti Western-inspired soundtrack soars.
While the original was focused more on the social satire and irony of drawing inherent parallels between the two seemingly polar opposite families, here Aja seems content mainly to lay across with a cinematic bitch slap about Yankee imperialism in broad allegorical strokes. As satire it’s sporadically amusing but not particularly insightful, but as a horror film it delivers the goods. Aja has a keen eye for mise en scène, and adeptly utilizes what could have been cheap jolts in effective ways.
If you have a taste for nasty-minded spelunking into the depths of depravity, this sick puppy is for you. Unless you’re a Republican … but then you already got that out of your system with the last presidential election.