The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

(On DVD, July 2016) It’s amazing how I get more mini-epiphanies during mediocre films than from great ones. The takeaway lesson from The Hills Have Eyes, as far as criticism theory is concerned, is this: I like horror movies that don’t make me feel like a sociopath. To unpack this a bit: When I’m watching a horror film, do I get the impression that it’s telling me to cheer for the villain? Have more time, attention and money been spent on the antagonist(s) rather than the heroes? If I shuffle through my favourite horror films of the past few years (It Follows, The Babadook, The Conjuring, etc.), it’s clear that they care for their protagonists and that they mean something beyond throwing gory violence on-screen. “Bad stuff happens to young people” isn’t a plot fit to make me like the result. Where this remake of The Hills Have Eyes comes in is that despite considerable effort designing and showcasing its mutated villains, it does have the decency to step back from the abyss just early enough to avoid complete nihilism. It is rather well executed for a schlocky creature feature: There’s a particularly unbearable sequence midway through in which three or four horrible things happen at once, and the movie becomes a full-on horror show of atrocities. I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s well done to a disturbing extent thanks to director Alexandre Aja’s savviness. The rest of the film isn’t so remarkable: As an example of the “crazed hillbillies want to kill our heroes” sub-genre, it has the appeal of taking place in a foreboding location and of sparing a larger number of its protagonists than you’d expect. Otherwise, it gets a bit off-putting in how it tries to give more personality to its monsters than its heroes, even painstakingly explaining the whys and hows of their origins when a simple mushroom cloud would have been more than sufficient. Save for the awful middle sequence, there isn’t much more to The Hills Have Eyes than your middling horror film, mass-produced for mindless gore-hound consumption. There’s a public for that … but I’m not included.

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