Death By Director

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Like any horror character worth its weight in kills, a successful horror film will keep coming back for more. Martin Weisz gives his directorial take on the radioactive terror started by Wes Craven and remade by Alex Aja. This film is a sequel to last year’s film rather than a remake of the original “Hills Have Eyes 2.” Aside from that initial confusion, the film works as a stand-alone story. It takes place some time after the first film in the same top-secret location in the desert that serves as the home to a family of killer mutants.

The opening sequence pretty much sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s brutally explicit and to the point. It also emphasizes the mutants’ habit of slaughtering all trespassers except for women, which they use for breeding. Once the main characters arrive and the casualties begin, the film doesn’t let up. Almost no breaks are given between the scares and deaths. It’s certainly a change of pace from the recent trend of psychological thrillers and Japanese horror remakes.

As far as sequels go, “Hills 2” is reminiscent of “Aliens.” Instead of the previous movie’s familial unit, the main characters Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and Amber (Jessica Stroup) are members of a rookie National Guard squad. Yet that doesn’t count much against a technologically primitive threat in its home territory. Everything that could possibly go wrong during the excursion into the desert does. Communication equipment doesn’t work, weapons go missing, and the hostile environment hampers the squad’s efforts. All while a family of killer mutants picks off the soldiers one by one.

What works about the film is the variety of deaths and scares. The writers, father-son team Wes and Jonathan Craven, made sure to include as many different scenarios as possible. Viewers with fear of heights, gore, scat and of course, mutant freaks will find plenty of opportunities to cringe or jump out of their seats. The well-done make-up job for the grotesque mutants alone is enough to elicit fear from any viewer. Their methods of killing match the gruesome nature of their appearances. When the protagonists finally have a chance to enact revenge on the mutants, it feels all the more gratifying.

“Hills 2” takes a very straightforward approach to horror. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that method, Weisz doesn’t quite manage to pull it off effectively. The set ups for a scare are painfully obvious and further watered down by the poor acting. The film instead relies on gore to shock the viewer. But with the amount of violent killing between the soldiers and mutants, the effect rapidly diminishes. After a while, “Hills 2” seems more like a typical action movie.

The film is also an anomaly in Wes Craven’s “Hills” franchise. Craven’s other franchise movies, like the “Scream” trilogy, was driven by its postmodern approach to the horror genre, while the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series was defined primarily by the charisma of its central villain. The “Hills” franchise differentiates itself by placing a helpless familial unit against a danger created by its own government. The family has to become as brutal as the monsters in order to survive. This theme doesn’t resonate well in Weisz’s film. As trained soldiers, the characters should be able to handle themselves in this situation. The squad’s failure to operate effectively makes it look even more inept, and disrupts the film’s attempts at appearing somewhat realistic.

“Hills 2” clocks in at less than two hours and, it ultimately serves as a cheap throwaway thrill. Hopefully this film puts an end to the direction the franchise is going. For better or worse, more remakes of Wes Craven’s films are on the way - hopefully they will start getting better, and not worse.


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