13 March 2006 | The_Void
Bloodthirsty mutant cannibals in the American wasteland
The question most people ask when it comes to modern day remakes is "why remake a classic?", but the question I ask of this one is "why call it The Hills Have Eyes?" Many films have been made before and after Wes Craven's original shocker with similar ideas, so why not take the basic plot idea and give it a new title; thus making it a new film. Judged on its own merits, Alexandre Aja's exploitation horror flick is actually a good film, but it loses credibility unnecessarily just because it's a part of the remake crowd. After an explosive beginning which gives you an idea of what Aja intends to do with the remake; the pace relaxes a little as we get to know the doomed family at the centre of the piece. While this may not be very exciting, it pays dividends towards the end when the mutant cannibals start to get their own way. We follow a family who decide to take a holiday that involves driving through the desert. After fuelling their car, the helpful petrol station attendant tells them of a shortcut in the desert; but after they have a crash, it soon becomes apparent that they aren't the only ones amidst the nuclear hills.
Towards the start of the film, Aja packs the film with references to nuclear testing which leads us to believe that he wants to go deeper with the plot. However, by the end it all feels very half-arsed, as apart from a few references towards the mentality of America - these ideas never really bear any fruit. Ted Levine heads a capable cast in a role that is a world away from his turn as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and actually feels a lot like a Sid Haig impression. The rest of the cast have some impressive film and TV credits between them, but nobody is a particularly 'big' actor, which actually does this sort of film credit. The real stars of the show are the make-up department, who do a great job with the mutant cannibals. They all look very realistic, and it's easy to believe that the people in the film actually are mutants. The violence and gore is fairly heavy, although Aja is actually quite restrained in this respect, as it only occurs when needed and never goes too over the top. Aja also does well with the scare factor, as he continually creates a foreboding atmosphere by way of lots of scare tactics, including the backwater desert atmosphere, glimpses of the killers early on and my personal favourite - the voices that come over the walkie talkies.
The main reason that this film works is not because of the violence, however, it's the way that Aja almost makes the audience a part of the central family. The characters are all well defined and realistically done; and this means that once we get to the horror of the piece, it really is horrific. Aja does go over the top with this towards the end, but in general the characters are very well defined, and I certainly cared a lot more about the family in this remake than I did in Wes Craven's original. It seems obvious that Alexandre Aja approached this film with care, and he definitely did have a lot to live up to after the surprise hit 'High Tension' the year before. The director certainly has talent, maybe even the potential to become one of the modern masters of horror; but I'm disappointed that this was his second film, as I really think that if he'd created something original, it could have been something really special. The fact that this film feels like an attempt for him to break into the American market is too obvious also. I do have faith that some day he'll top his debut film - but he hasn't done it with this. On its own merits, however, The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is a good film, and Aja can certainly be proud of himself for doing Craven's original justice.