Alexandre Aja bored some and delighted others with the horror-movie compendium that was his previous movie, High Tension. In his approved remake of the 1977 Wes Craven wrong-turn classic, things get interesting only when he finally shows some invention near the end.
It’s your business (or, really, show business) if you want to see another glossy, amped-up retread of some unreproducible 70s production. That’s Hills for the first hour, as Aja hits every mark, down to a joke about Freud and snakes. The family still gets stranded in the mutant-laced desert after stopping at a ramshackle gas station, only now with new dialogue about cellphones and family tensions (script insecurity: the son-in-law even works in telecommunications).
Aja’s pacing is acceptable, and anyone who hasn’t seen the original (or 2003’s Wrong Turn) probably will jerk and jump on cue. He fleshes out the atomic mutants, who in the original were more menacing as a presence than outright repulsive. Unfortunately, one now resembles a Goonies character, and Aja’s penchant for the explicit leads to an ill-advised credit sequence with what appear to be actual photos of birth defects.
It’s only in the last third that there seems any point to the remake besides brand and bottomline. Since it’s also the film’s only thrill, suffice to say that Aja finds an evocative way for depicting the mutants’ community. (Even so he wavers and pointlessly xeroxes portions of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)
And a hero emerges, bloodier than ever, resembling tandoori chicken, in fact. A final note for Frenchie and other horror directors today: easy on the sound cues. If every shock gets punched up with a thump, they don’t work.