Written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur and Directed by Alexandre Aja
I remember in 2005 when I saw trailers for The Hills Have Eyes. I was just over ten and it looked freaky but that little adrenaline junkie in my brain always poked and prodded at me to watch it. A slasher flick set in the dessert with mutants? Sign eleven-year-old me up! Unfortunately, I never got around to watching it because, A. I couldn’t find it, and B. I was too scared to find it. Twenty-two year old me thinks this is a good thing. If I had seen this movie when I was eleven, I would’ve been scarred the way Signs scarred be because of that alien popping out of the bushes. Back then THAT was scary as hell for me. This would’ve been something else entirely.
The Hills Have Eyes is about a family whose vehicle breaks down, trapping them in the dessert that happens to be filled with cannibalistic mutants. It sounds like your basic slasher/survival film and while the essentials of the film might be overall in line, it clearly sets itself apart. The characters aren’t fleshed out too much, we don’t know their pasts but we’re given a good set up; we know who likes who and we know what the relationship is between them. The events that happen to this family are violent and rough and at moments hard to watch but they’re skillfully peppered throughout. We’re hit with moments of terror but then the story will move to a quieter moment and give the audience a little bit of rest without letting up the tension. Most of the film I was expecting things to happen, even when they didn’t. The mutants were disturbing and the “normal American family” fighting against them made for an interesting contrast. The mutants blamed America for what happened to them and here comes a family with American flags attached to their car and all the signs of the modern-day American.
The characters were killed off brilliantly. Not just in the ways they died but also the order in which the family died. All of the characters set up at the beginning as the “strongest”, The ex-cop father and the two mothers who would do anything to protect their children, were killed off right away, leaving behind the sister’s husband and the two youngest. By taking away the strongest we got some excellent moments between the siblings and the husband was forced to step up and stop whining. The actors of course played it brilliantly, and I must give special credit to the two youngest kids. The sister goes through being raped and held hostage while witnessing her sister and mother get killed. She cries, she mourns, but then she soldiers up and lands the final blow of the movie. Her arc was tragic but ultimately uplifting. The brother goes from a cocky cliché teenager to losing his mind. Seeing his dog gutted came through in the performance perfectly, with him hiding it from the family and going insane because of it. A good story isn’t complete without good characters and they’re all very solid in this one.
The mutants weren’t fleshed out or really ever in the spotlight but their designs were brilliant. Much like the Cenobites of Hellraiser we were subjected to horrific designs of monsters that just wanted to eat people. Taken straight out of pictures of radiation victims, the Mutants were brought to life with a mix of make-up and CGI that made them extremely disturbing to look at. You could feel sorry for these creatures and their nuclear-influenced looks but their actions make them less-human. The blood effects were over the top but fantastic. Featuring a full on shot of a man taking his head off with the shotgun they don’t shy away and they didn’t cheap out on the effects to do that.
I’ve never seen Wes Craven’s original film, but I could feel the love and respect for the source material through Aja’s directing. The whole film felt like it was filled with craft and everything was deliberate. Through the film we’re kept at a certain distance from the characters and it feels more like we’re watching them, much like the creatures. The colors are bright and the atmosphere is tense and never let’s go, but after all the violence and madness and disturbing events he still makes sure to reward the audience. It’s not the happiest of endings but you feel relieved at the end for a moment before Aja takes that relief away and gives us one final shot of the survivors… through the lens of another pair of binoculars. The action pieces are brilliant, with the fight between one mutant (who I thought looked suspiciously like a less-smart Jason) and the husband. It was savage and didn’t seem to end and the characters fight for survival was felt even from sitting and watching it. You WANTED this man to survive but the monster he faced was massive and Aja made sure to remind us of that.
The Hills Have Eyes wasn’t what I was expecting it to be and that’s a good thing. I was expecting it to be a torrent of disturbing imagery, but it turned out to have a fight in it. Filled with madness, blood, and spirit, the film belongs with the small echelon of Horror remakes (2009’s Friday the 13th and 2013’s Texas Chainsaw) that better the original and create for one hell of a ride. If you haven’t seen this film and you’re a fan of slashers and horror in general it is absolutely worth a watch.
So, have you seen the Hills Have Eyes? How does it compare to the original for you?
I’ll see you tomorrow for the next review, The Devil’s Rejects!