Last House on the Left centres on violence. The premise revolves around one violent act justifying another.
Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) and her parents (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) just arrived at their summer house for their annual family vacation. Desperate for some fun after the long drive, Mari convinces her parents to let her spend the evening with her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac). While hanging out at the convenience store, the girls meet Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), a boy their age, who offers to share the weed he has back at the motel. The teens are indulging and having a good time when Justin's escaped convict father (Garret Dillahunt) prematurely returns with Sadie (Riki Lindhome) and uncle Frank (Aaron Paul). The girls are immediately viewed as liabilities that must be dealt with quietly. What follows is a series of near-escapes, brutal assaults and murder. Coincidentally, the dysfunctional family seeks refuge from a storm at Mari's parents' home. When her mom and dad realize they are harbouring monsters, they seek retribution.
The film's cast really takes ownership of their roles, no matter how repulsive. Dillahunt is extremely disturbing and nasty. His maniacal behaviour overshadows the rest of his group's, but you would not want to meet any of them in a dark alley either. Potter and Goldwyn, conversely, communicate an innate necessity to their actions.
The violence and blood is glossier, subtracting from the raw, real feel of the 1972 version. The murder plot featuring the parents is quite creative and employs a variety of items found in the kitchen to dispatch their victims.
The Wes Craven version (which was based on Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring) was banned in Australia for more than 30 years and lauded one of the most violent films ever produced – they even recommend you keep repeating "It's only a movie" while watching. Other than the personalized slasher-like violence doled out by the parents, the concern was over the extended torture and humiliation of two teenage girls. The remake doesn't shy away from the unpleasantness but instead attempts to recreate the gut reaction the first film evoked; but it does not wholly succeed. It uses an unnecessarily long, up-close rape sequence to make its point; but the seasoned filmgoer knows that's very nearly a cop-out because rape is the easiest way to make a bad guy look evil and an audience uncomfortable. Craven managed to provoke a visceral response without excessive violence but a look of shame from the perpetrators.
That said, with the level of violence in this film, which is receiving a wide release in mainstream cinemas, it is surprising it was not assigned an R (Canada) or NC-17 (U.S.) rating.