Directed By: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Byrd
Tag line: "The lucky ones die first"
Trivia: Over 16 different nationalities worked on the movie, which was filmed in Morocco
Directed by Alexandre Aja, 2006’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes strikes a nice balance between old and new, matching the brutality of the film that inspired it while, at the same time, updating its story in a way that makes it considerably more unsettling.
The tale is a familiar one: “Big Bob” Carter (Ted Levine) and his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) are heading west to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, bringing with them their teenage kids Bobby (Dan Byrd) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), as well as eldest daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), who’s joined by her husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) and their newborn baby. While traveling down a deserted stretch of desert road, they have an “accident” that completely disables their car, leaving hem stranded in an area once used by the government for nuclear testing. Bob and Doug head off in separate directions to look for help while the rest of the family, aided by their state-of-the-art mobile home, makes the best of the situation. The moment the sun goes down, however, the Carters realize they’re not alone in the desert, and are soon fighting for their lives against a family of cannibalistic mutants.
Many of the more intense sequences from 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes are recreated in this recent version, from the fate of Big Bob and the attack on the Carter family to the kidnapping that kicks off the second half of the movie, with Aja ratcheting up the ferocity of these scenes (a la blood and violence) to make each a more powerful experience. Where the film sets itself apart from its predecessor is in the way it handles the “family” that's stalking the Carters, transforming them from backward mountain people to straight-up mutants. Deformed by the leftover radiation, this family is a collection of grotesqueries; men, women and children that look every bit as frightening as they act (instead of living in a cave, as they did in Craven’s film, they reside in one of the artificial towns built by the government, which were used to figure out how much damage a nuclear blast might cause).
As much as I admire the original, which, for me, ranks among Craven’s best efforts, this recent version of The Hills Have Eyes is a vicious, occasionally cruel motion picture that will get under your skin, then linger in your mind for days afterwards. Like Craven before him, Alexandre Aja has crafted one hell of a horror movie.