Directed by Alexandre Aja, 2006
I remember a conversation from a few years ago between myself, my stepmom and a friend of hers. The topic was the Alien franchise and said friend was explaining that she liked all of the films except the second one because, "it put a child in danger and that is never okay." And I remember thinking to myself, "if you ever saw what I would put on screen, you’d die from how morally reprehensible it was." Alexandre Aja and I have a lot in common. The trailer invasion sequence is gold. Pure gold. If it were a tradeable commodity, Alexandre Aja would be the Sultan of Brunai for that sequence on its own. It is a flawless 15 minutes of horror, no question. It is emotionally and visually brutal as fuck. It doesn’t just cover all grounds, it drenches them in napalm and throws a burning corpse on it as the match. Some people may have a problem seeing a mutant point a magnum at a baby’s head while another tries to rape its aunt. I don’t. Visceral doesn’t even begin to describe The Hills Have Eyes. Back in December of ’04 I wrote this of Alexandre Aja:
This man has got an eye for horror unlike any director I have seen in the past twenty years. Haute Tension isn’t a masterpiece, in my eyes, but it is a first time entry into a genre that, though forgiving, isn’t very lenient. If you try to make a horror movie and don’t do it right, the genre won’t pull any punches in letting you know about it. But Alexandre Aja has no need to worry about the genre masses reactions to his first horror film, because simply put, Haute Tension is a better made film than every single horror film of the past decade.
And I stand by that statement today. As a universal filmmaker, the man has some developing to go – and I’ll get to that in a minute – but as a horror director, he is operating on a level 98% of his peers simply aren’t. He has a tremendous gift for laying out raw thrills and pounding them onto the screen like a baseball bat to the chest. Aja deals out visual dread as if it were an effortless ordeal. He makes other newcomers look like the fools they are. However, he does have his faults. Haute Tension‘s ending was, for many, many people, a complete deal breaker. I was curious to see if he had matured here and would make a more complete and more self-satisfying film with Hills and I am happy to say he has. However, Hills still has problems. They’re minor and mainly technical on my part, but they’re worth mentioning simply because they’ve become cliched in horror these days. Jump scares are old hat and expected (if not even secretly desired), but this new wave of intercutting montage shots with a slamming razor sound is getting really old. You can deal out information and still make it seem creepy without cutting each shot with the sound of a paper-cutter’s arm slamming against a bare edge. It isn’t scary. It just grates at the senses, in a tactless and simple way that is just boring. But with those admitedly minor complaints aside, The Hills Have Eyes is one of the most complete horror films in years. It is certainly in league with the Dawn remake and in many ways, runs laps around that film as well. It is a film we horror fans can truly be proud of. It has all the brutality and balls of its 70’s kin without any of the pitfalls of its recent descendants. It is a truly inspired love note written in the redest of blood and bound by the whitest of bones. This is one for us. This is one for the books (and the box office). Revel in it, genre fans. Save for Slither (and Snakes on a Plane, of course), The Hills Have Eyes is probably the best we will get all year.