I’ve never been a big fan of the original, but this version of “The Hills Have Eyes” isn’t just the better version of the two, but it’s also one of the best horror movies of its decade. The minute the movie begins, we know we’re in good hands: It’s almost a shot-for-shot remake (definitely at least a beat-for-beat one) but it manages to expand on the original’s themes and explore them a little more clearheadedly. For instance, the breakdown between civility and micro-survivalism is an edge thin enough that it takes less than 24 hours for a Republican, God-worshipping all-American white family to abandon their own humanity in an all-out effort to survive an onslaught of horror and terror from mutant cannibals in the New Mexico desert. The same is true of the original, but here the theme is highlighted by various, pregnant interactions between the characters, successfully establishing the inter-personal dynamics before the horror starts, so by the time director Alexandre Aja starts painting the walls red, the audience is fully emotionally invested in the characters’ fates. But perhaps what works even better this time is the acting, in particular Dan Byrd: As the teenage son, he radiates growing panic and palpable terror as the events of the day unfold, and Byrd’s ability to communicate his character’s decision-making process as the world falls down around him is so viscerally compelling that he elevates the entire production around him. It’s an intense, grisly and punishing watch, but one that has a lot to say about the American government, its fascist tendencies and total disregard for its own citizens, and reminds audiences that the horror genre often functions as a reflection of socio-political realities in direct, ballsy ways.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)