Made with the blessing of Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978), French up-and-comer Alexandre Aja's full-bore do-over is a shockingly successful update of a seminal 1970s shocker. It begins with the most mundane of setups: Bluff but loving dad "Big Bob" Carter (Ted Levine), a retired police detective, has dragooned his long-suffering clan into a cross-country family vacation in his beloved Airstream trailer. No one wants to take a detour through the desert except Bob, not even his unflaggingly supportive wife, Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan). Teens Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) and Bobby (Dan Byrd) have zero interest in the sand-and-scrub scenic route, and married daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and her nerdy husband, cell-phone salesman Doug (Aaron Stanford) — the butt of Big Bob's endless macho needling — would rather be cruising along a nicely paved highway, especially since they're traveling with their newborn. Still, everything might have gone fine if the grizzled proprietor (Tom Bower) of that ramshackle gas station hadn't caught Lynn poking around his back room. She was just retrieving one of the rambunctious family dogs and didn't notice the satchel filled with bloody loot, but she could have seen something, and their fate is sealed. He sends them down a dusty, booby-trapped, dead-end road and straight into the arms of a mutated clan of cannibal desert dwellers, monstrous survivors of a mining community that refused relocation when the military appropriated their homes for atomic testing. Aja's sunbaked endurance test is grueling and relentlessly nasty. It also follows the first film's outlines faithfully, with the exception of an interlude in the blasted atomic-test village that the cannibal family calls home, which actually clarifies certain aspects of the story, notably Doug's transformation from annoying dork to avenging dad. Aja also retains Craven's commitment to character, making the Carters a thoroughly believably "normal American family" rather than a row of shooting-gallery ducks set up to be picked off amid bloodthirsty squeals of delight. But stripped of its visceral Vietnam-era context, HILLS loses some of its discomfiting shock value. Not because its bitter sociopolitical underpinnings are any less valid in the post-9/11 world — the new version's portrayal of middle-class Americans baffled by the sheer hatred directed at them by the impoverished, disenfranchised and brutalized victims of government policy is arguably more potent than ever — but because it's no longer news. Or perhaps it is: If Craven's HILLS was a warning that human collateral damage eventually comes back to bite you, then clearly no one was listening.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: Made with the blessing of Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978), French up-and-comer Alexandre Aja's full-bore do-over is a shockingly successful update of a seminal 1970s shocker. It begins with the most mundane of set… (more)