A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is absolutely not for kids. It includes incessant, vicious attacks on a family traveling through the New Mexican desert by a group of mutants. The violence is startling, explicit, and aggressive (dogs are knifed and eviscerated; humans suffer knifing, dismembering, shooting, burning at a stake). Someone bites off a parakeet's head. The monstrous mutants watch their prey through binoculars, which the film renders as spooky "surveillance" imagery. Women appear undressed as monsters try to rape them. Characters smoke, drink beer and margaritas, and refer to "the chronic"/pot. Opening credits sequence features ghastly victims of radiation, in jars and photos.
What's the story?
Gruesome and then some, the new HILLS HAVE EYES again pits two families against one another. In one corner of the New Mexico desert traipse the Carters, including retired cop Big Bob (Ted Levine), his churchy wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) and their mostly grown kids, new mom Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and her liberal-leaning husband Doug (Aaron Stanford), adolescent Bobby (Dan Byrd), and slightly younger Brenda (Emilie de Ravin). In the hills, a family of mutants watches the Carters, until it's time to strike. Their faces are doughy and misshapen, bodies bent and filthy, and snaggly-sharp teeth perfect for ripping flesh from bones. First, they kill one of the Carters' two German shepherds, leaving it for young Bobby to find. He's so scared that when he makes his way back to the broken down trailer where the rest of the family awaits a never-coming rescue, he doesn't tell them what he found, concerned he might scare them. This is only one of many bad ideas made by the California-bound vacationers (the first is to take the "shortcut" directions down an unpaved road).
Is it any good?
Alexandre Aja's revisitation of Wes Craven's 1977 original is true to its source, making the same basic social and political points with about as much subtlety. (In 1945, the U.S. military irradiated miners during atomic testing, and the victims' kin remained fond of eating people.) Most of the mutants are men, which explain their kids, including a little girl in a red hood. She provides an emotional and ethical counterpoint to her elders, though she's more mascot than complicated character.
The mutants descend on the hapless travelers in veritable droves. Aja and DP Maxime Alexandre's mobile, precise camerawork creates a perverse elegance, even as the film exploits ugliness and abuse. While Craven and his peers conjured nightmares in the wake of the Vietnam war, this new generation of slasher aficionados and makers is working amid mass mediated torture, war, and moral mayhem. No wonder their visions are bleak.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's two family units: How do the travelers/victims turn desperate and become like their attackers? How do the film's graphic displays of violence (now a staple of horror/slasher movies) serve specific functions? Do viewers want to be scared or repulsed, to identify with victims or monsters, or to take pleasure in the technical expertise of the violence? Why do horror movies remain so popular, especially with teens?
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