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THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 2006
Starring: Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Vinessa Shaw, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Billy Drago, Robert Joy, Ted Levine, Desmond Askew, Ezra Buzzington, Michael Bailey Smith
A suburban family journeying through the New Mexico desert is ambushed and set upon by a gang of cannibalistic sociopaths, hideously disfigured from the result of nuclear contamination of their otherwise abandoned town. When they kidnap his baby, Stanford must make his way into their lair, leaving brother and his young brother and sister-in-law alone to fend for themselves.
Difficult to categorise as ‘entertainment’, due to the almost paralysing, horrific sequence when Levine and Quinlan’s family are terrorized in one fell swoop by the desert dwellers stalking them, Craven (here acting as co-producer only) oversees Aja’s skilful and clever remake of his own seventies hit horror.
And Aja uses all of his talents to not only deliver a sequence that unsettles and startles (we see a crucifixion, rape, a man breast-feeding on a nursing mother, kidnap and murder within a minute of screen-time) but might also make you press the pause button.
Clever in that Aja (who also co-wrote the screenplay), right from the get go with the opening title credits that mix a 50’s advert with a hysterically giddy home-maker, bomb fallout footage and images of revolting genetic deformities and maintains a subtle theme throughout of sweet suburbanites under attack on home soil.
Indeed, this is a strong story of two very different families from two extreme walks of life fighting for survival in the harshest of environments (Morocco standing in for New Mexico), both in the end having to resort to murder. If it wasn’t for this diverting sub-theme, the film would have become nothing more than an exploitation flick.
Much of the film reflects the barren setting: tomandandy dulled music sounds like the notes are being drained away, Alexandre’s photography makes much use of long-shot to isolate the family (during their group prayer, for instance) and Nemec’s design is also fittingly dead and dusty.
This is a film that takes you on a trip to the depths of human depravity and abasement humans can inflict on each other and then let’s your hand go. Even the ‘happy’ ending is tinged with the knowledge that, to survive such an ordeal, one has to take an evolutionary step back as well.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES