The Hills Have Eyes 2

| March 28, 2007

It begins with a tranquil, low-angle shot of a barren desert landscape. This desolate vista–it could be Arizona or the surface of Mars, for all we can tell–is quickly disrupted by the arrival of some faceless rogue, a beast of a man who lurches by, dragging a lifeless body behind him. Another menacing figure steps dramatically into frame, and suddenly the stationary shot has become a moving one, the jerky POV of a bound and gagged hostage. Playing against these unsettling images is Devendra Banhart’s twangy, otherworldly “Insect Eyes,” a moody folk ballad that perfectly sets the tone for this short-form nightmare. Were there an award given for Best Movie Trailer of the Year–and I’m sure there is, somewhere, by someone–the creepy teaser spot for Fox Atomic’s The Hills Have Eyes 2 would be an early contender for the top prize. In fact, as trailers go, this one’s actually too good: there’s more style, atmosphere, and tension in its sparse 90 seconds than there is in the entire 90 minutes of the feature it promotes. Talk about false advertising.
Slapped together to capitalize on the moderate success of its ultra-violent predecessor, The Hills Have Eyes 2 is a rote and shameless cash-in, a sequel-to-a-remake that never lets you forget, even for a second, that it’s a faded, third-generation Xerox of a 30-year-old model. It contains not a single original idea, a single moment of visual or sonic inventiveness, a single scare that it doesn’t telegraph minutes in advance. It’s a strictly by-the-numbers affair, the latest spawn of Hollywood’s freak show assembly line, designed to be quickly consumed (and just as quickly forgotten) by an indiscriminant movie-going public. And though the film is doused in grit and grime, gore and excrement, the only stench wafting off of it is that of flop sweat desperation.
Watching this utterly mundane genre offering, one actually longs for the trashy kicks of its year-old precursor, Alexandre Aja’s twisted remake of Wes Craven’s 1976 cult fave. Though rather incompetent as a political allegory, Aja’s Hills at least benefited from the nearly bottomless depth of its depravity: everything from rape-by-mutant to attempted infanticide contributed to the film’s aggressive assault on good taste. Yet with the exception of its unbelievably vile opening scene–the live birth of a monster baby, captured in wet, disgusting detail–this toothless follow-up fails to shock. It’s helmed by Martin Weisz, a music video veteran who faithfully mimics Aja’s dusty, twitchy aesthetic, but fails to appropriate the grandeur of his Sergio Leone-style showdowns. Weisz instead piles on the blood and guts, his reliance on garden-variety gore–a limb hacked off here, a head impaled there–proving a poor substitute for his film’s complete lack of suspense.
“It ain’t the people in caves other there that I’m worried about,” a character ominously intones halfway through The Hills Have Eyes 2. This is a blunt acknowledgement of the movie’s painfully obvious and go-nowhere political subtext. Its heroes are a troop of National Guard trainees stranded in the New Mexico desert, facing an enemy they can’t see from a culture they know nothing about. The soldiers-cum-victims of this misguided cavalry are a grab bag of war movie archetypes: the headstrong pacifist, the trigger-happy hothead, the hot chick in combat fatigues, etc. They’re a wholly uninteresting lot, and as the mutants dispatch them–picking them off one by one, in predictable fashion and order–you may find yourself calling shots, mapping out the causality list long before the film has whittled it down to its expected survivors. This morbid act of viewer participation would be more satisfying if Weisz provided interesting villains to identify with or root for. Alas, this time out, the deformed savages lack even the smidgen of personality Aja afforded them. They’re faceless monsters, disposable and interchangeable–where’s a memorable freak like Michael Berryman when you need him?
This new Hills plods and drags, dispensing cheap thrills like the lost slasher movie reject of the ’80s. When the action finally shifts from narrow, sun-baked ledges to dark, cavernous mine shafts, the film transforms from a forgettable entry in a regrettable franchise to a second-rate knock-off of The Descent. These later scenes especially–rushed, sloppily written battles in the darkness, capped off by a deeply anti-climactic finale–suggest the work of an anonymous hatchet man, yet it might surprise horror buffs to learn that this sub-par redux is actually the work of Wes Craven himself, who co-wrote the script with son Jonathan. How, one might ask, could this renowned genre master actively contribute to the exploitation of his own esteemed canon? Simple answer: he’s done it before. For the best thing that can be said for 2007’s The Hills Have Eyes 2 is that it’s not 1985’s The Hills Have Eyes 2. Craven stills bleed his best ideas dry–see the Elm Street series and Scream 3 for proof of that–but he’s at least gotten wise enough to filter out his more absurd conceits. In other words, no canine flashbacks in this one–that’s certainly what I’d call artistic growth.

About the Author:

Jon Bastian Jon is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, where he has been currently appearing in Flash Theater LA when not working for Cesar Millan to keep his dogs rolling in kibble.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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