Monday, April 30, 2007

More Freaky Hills

The Hills Have Eyes 2
Directed by Martin Weisz
Starring: Jessica Stroup, Michael McMillan, Jacob Vargas
Grade: C-

I was not without praise for Alexandre Aja's remake of brutal 1977 horror 'The Hills Have Eyes'. Wes Craven, who directed the original, pens this sequel, which sees a group of National Guard trainees venture into sector 13 after the disappearance of a troop based there. The first scene of The Hills Have Eyes II is vile. A woman gives birth to a mutant baby, a mutant yanking the baby out by its head, the umbilical cord in full view, a distasteful and sickening sight. Craven may well be playing up to his cult status here with this hard-hitting bloodthirsty statement, but its a message of things to come.

Last year's remake has certainly bloomed more positively in my mind as time has gone on. I think, initially, for me, it was hard to distinguish between how much of what the film achieves is down to its explicit shock tactics and how much is created aesthetically. Speaking in terms of narrative, the fact that both 1977 and 2006 versions of the story centre around a family certainly intensifies our feelings towards the protagonists, which is absoloutely key in terms of horror.
Perhaps that's why this sequel feels more of an exercise than it does a battle. The group are loosely bound by a comradeship that's fairly thin, none of the characters on show displaying any type of identifiable pain or strength -- the only real attempt at creating empathy involving a video of one of the women's son on her mobile phone. But Hills II feels less about maternal and communal instinct than it does about internal affairs, and the battle between institutions and outsiders -- a bold yet puzzling concept, given Aja's efforts to focus on family and distance the mutants' humanity evident in Craven's original.

Indeed, it seems that Craven's updated story veers from Aja's course, in some ways re-discovering more closely the nature of the mutants, and the strength they pose as a united force. Again, there's a 'good mutant' that aids the group in their quest to escape. Yet in other ways dismissing their actions as evil and leisurely rather than harsh and practical, which is a tad contradictory. In any case, these latest Hills are just as gory, and just as claustrophobic. It's just a shame that the film doesn't have as clear a direction as last year's, and isn't anywhere near as polished, leaving you with little to take from the experience. Well, maybe a slight shudder at the thought of a third installment.

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