The Hills Have Eyes
2006Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Aaron Standford, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd
t was Keynes who famously said that “in the long run we are all dead.” What he meant, of course, was that economic planning can only reveal so much, insofar as it was predictive. In a Wes Craven film, however, there is no long run, and we are all essentially about to die or already dead—or at the very least, spectacularly dismembered. And if it’s a Wes Craven classic tweaked by the French director behind High Tension, a similarly grisly film, bloodlust is the modus operandi.
But some context first: In the original The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the Carter family was on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles via the New Mexico Desert, an admittedly bad idea; and as bad ideas go, stopping at a weather-beaten ramshackle of a gas-station to get directions isn’t any better. Miles later, the Carter family, plus son-in-law Doug, find themselves stranded in the hot desert, their car disabled, and within eye-range of genetically malformed hill-people. The bloodletting begins in earnest as one of their handsome German Shepard’s, Beauty, is found disemboweled by Bobby, the Carter’s son. Other family members die, gruesomely, which should be droll, though it turns out to be remarkably sad. Luckily for the surviving Carters, their other German Shepard, Beast, is around to exact his revenge on the misbegotten hill-people. Craven’s Hills worked as endearing slasher kitsch, not so much horror as an apprenticeship on the way to becoming the Master of Suspense.
French director Alexandre Aja’s Hills, by contrast, is an altogether bloodier, slicker, unflinchingly grueling, reworking of the original. As such, Aja’s tack conjures up an empathetic verisimilitude that cows the viewer into his seat, reaching for and rubbing at the sympathetic pick-axe pangs at the top of his head. Like any good horror film, Hills offers a frustrating narrative and obdurate character motives that compel us to yell at the screen, hopelessly willing a different outcome, yet fully resigned to the natural inertia of the film’s plot.
And so the Carters are back on the road again, this time with the modest destination of San Diego. But they make the same mistake: that dilapidated gas-station in the middle of nowhere. Inflation, the price of gas and whatnot, has kicked—in ’77’, the gas and check-up only cost $6.80, while now, considering the geopolitical tumult, it costs a whopping $46.80. This doesn’t deter Big Bob Carter, retired police officer, one bit, and on his way out he humbly accepts apocryphal directions (a short cut?) from the cantankerous old attendant. When their vehicle spins out of control again and breaks an axel, the Carters find themselves in the desert heat, unwitting prey to the misanthropes with aberrant genes.
Aja’s Hills is unambiguously clear on the origins of the hill-people (government nuclear atmospheric tests), and even less shy than Craven’s original was about their penchant to cannibalism. Apart from the first German Shepherd, Beauty, the rapacious hill-people have something more toothsome in mind: the littlest Carter of the brood, Lynne (Vinessa Shaw) and Doug’s (Aaron Standford) newborn. While Lost’s Emilie de Ravin, as Brenda Carter, exercises her trachea with intermittent bloodcurdling screams, it’s up to Doug and Bobby Jr. (Dan Byrd) to pull the family together—they are in pieces, literally—and confront the hill-people. In the process, we want to turn away, yet something undeniably atavistic trains our eyes back onto the screen, powerless.
The amount of blood and disparate body parts and blunted axes separating those body parts does tend to be viscerally dissonant. But Aja has produced a technically competent horror film, at once distributing and efficiently affective. Even though it’s imperative that people die, the Carter family is sweet and credible enough to half-way mourn them when their inevitable fates come to pass. And, thankfully, you will never see this much blood in your lifetime. A film like this exists for that reason alone.
By: Ron Mashate
Published on: 2006-04-04