"The Hills Have Eyes," co-written and directed by up-and-coming French filmmaker Alexandre Aja, is a remake of Wes Craven's 70s horror cult classic of the same name. It's a very faithful adaptation that is imbued with an unexpected, clever political subtext. If Craven's original was about the American social class-struggle between the town hick and the urbane city slicker, Aja's remake is single-mindedly about America's politics, particularly the country's foreign policy. Despite indications of such weighty issues, the film's heart belongs to the exploitation genre (traditionally involving a sensational display of some topic about which the audience may be curious, especially sex, gore, and violence). "The Hills Have Eyes" is brutal and unrelenting as it should be. Aja delivers a film that is harder and meaner that his breakout hit "Haute Tension." Fans will not be disappointed.
The title credit sequence is set to tomandandy's barbed electronic music score – it features shots of nuclear bomb explosions on the parched deserts of New Mexico with images of deformed children spliced in. A smart stylistic and thematic introduction to the film. The story of the film belongs to two families: Let's just say one group is human while the other is not quite. Our human family is the Carters, idyllic Americans (religious, political and urbane; all stock conventions firmly in cheek) are on a road trip through the southwest to California. They make a brief stopover at a gas station, and are suggested to take a shortcut (always a bad idea). Naturally, custom dictates that their car breaks down. Assuming they are stranded but relatively safe, the men of the Carter family go on foot to find help; they leave the women alone in their trailer (obviously the family doesn't watch enough horror movies!). The helpless women and a baby will be attacked by our second family of sub-human cannibals (victims of the mutations caused by the nuclear explosions) who dwell in the dusty hills. A savage scene of rape, torture and massacre ensues. The remaining survivors must now defend their right to live as the film slowly subverts the rules of the game – the line between good guys and bad guys is blurred. In a scene of biting irony, Doug (Aaron Stanford) who is initially accused of being a pacifist Democrat by his Republican father-in-law Bob (Ted Levine) has to kill a mutant with the only weapon available to him - the American flag! It's a cruel twist of fate as the mutants go from hunters to the hunted. And this is where Aja's remake gets a leg-up on Craven's original: We feel sympathy for the deformed cannibals, barbaric social rejects that are really just unwanted byproducts of the US government's nuclear bomb testing. For the Carter family who cannot "understand why they (the mutants) are doing this to them" the film's greatest achievement is its nimble political commentary on American life in a post-9/11 world. It also appears that Aja does not want to betray substantial background information on the sub-humans. There is no omniscient narration (shots that reveal something to the audience but not to the characters); we know only as much as the human "victims" in the film. This creates considerable tension and mystery – thematically, it also added a dimension of frustration for the Carters who express bitter resentment at not being able to "understand" their uncivilised enemy. Sound familiar? - Adnan Khan