19 March 2007

The Hills Have Eyes

Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur

Grade: C-

When the remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 gorefest first hit the theaters, I wanted to see it, though I'm not quite sure as to why. But, after reading the critical reception (universal pans), I resigned that I probably wouldn’t after all. We’re only alive for so long, and there’re so many movies to see. But then, many months later, I stumbled across an evangelical Christian movie message board, and their repulsion and revulsion at the film piqued my interest anew. Isn't the enemy of my enemy my friend?

Well, apparently not always, and the lesson learned is that when my instincts tell me to trust my beloved critics, I oughtn’t betray them for the sake of spiting the born-agains. (Although, surprisingly, the film's cinematography is fantastic!) The Hills Have Eyes follows in the tradition of atomic monster movies in which detonated (American) nuclear bombs cause far more trouble than anyone would’ve bargained for. But rather than adhere to the usual allegory in which mother nature, in the shape of some grossly enraged and enlarged creature, metes out her revenge for the abuse of her green Earth, in The Hills Have Eyes the monsters are deformed human beings, which complicates the metaphor.

In a bit of cheap filmmaking—essential expository information is culled from serendipitously placed newspaper clippings, which have large, juicy, informative headlines—we learn that when the American government ordered some miners in the desert to abandon their land so that it could be utilized for nuclear experiments, the miners refused; the American government went ahead and conducted the experiments anyway, setting off their atomic weapons and driving the miners and their families underground, where they mutated into savage murderous beasts with a penchant for cannibalism, apparently. Running afoul of these monsters years later are a bickering family of vacationeers, each of whom represents the worst of America: a meek and whiny Democratic son-in-law; a hollowly religious matriarch; a slutty, spoiled and shallow daughter; a violent, hard-assed, right-wing patriarch; etc.

At first it all plays out as an allegory for 9-11, as “monsters” born out of American arrogance and aggression attack us at our most unsuspecting. But by siding with the family and making their struggle for survival drivingly sympathetic, the film doesn’t say anything interesting, merely suggesting that when American might gets its comeuppance, the best recourse is to grow some balls (that means you, Democrats!) and kick some ass. They even manage to kill one of the mutants by driving an American flag through its throat—no joke! While the crowd-pleasing violence is deliciously over-the-top, it never gets campy enough to read sarcastically (or even gruesome enough to be shocking, except by sensitive Christian standards), thereby offering a jingoistic point-of-view I could’ve gotten from the nightly news. The Hills Have Eyes, Brian Williams: either one’s a waste of time.

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