The Films of Dennis Iliadis
The Last House on the Left (March 14/09)
An obvious improvement over its amateurish predecessor, The Last House on the Left employs the basic structure of Wes Craven's 1972 debut as a springboard for an uneven yet consistently engaging horror effort. The storyline follows athletic teenager Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) as she and a friend (Martha MacIsaac's Paige) are kidnapped, assaulted, and left for dead by a quartet of vicious goons (led by Garret Dillahunt's Krug), with the latter half of the proceedings detailing Mari's parents' (Tony Goldwyn's John and Monica Potter's Emma) efforts at avenging the mistreatment of their only child. It's a set-up that'll seem instantly familiar to those viewers with even a passing familiarity with Craven's creation, yet there's little doubt that screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth generally do a superb job of infusing the proceedings with bursts of unexpected innovation (ie Krug's backstory, Mari's fate, etc). It's also worth noting that the misguided comedic elements that plagued the first film are entirely absent here, as director Dennis Iliadis emphasizes an atmosphere of dread that pervades throughout much of The Last House on the Left's (admittedly overlong) running time. And while Iliadis and company eschew the torture and sadism featured so prominently in the original (ie the notorious "pee your pants" interlude has been excised), the movie is often quite unflinching in its portrayal of violence and it's certainly not difficult to envision some viewers having a tough time with the intentionally hard-to-watch rape sequence. The uniformly strong performances cement the picture's place as an above-average horror remake, and though there are admittedly a few lulls within the narrative (ie the film probably should've topped out at 80 minutes), it ultimately goes without saying that The Last House on the Left is superior in every conceivable way to its head-scratchingly lauded predecessor.
A seriously weird little movie, +1 follows three friends (Rhys Wakefield's David, Logan Miller's Teddy, and Suzanne McCloskey's Allison) as they arrive at a massive house party shortly after a mysterious phenomenon strikes nearby - with the film detailing the mind-bending chaos that ensues in its aftermath. Before the weirdness dominates, however, +1 comes off as a fairly standard college-party movie that revolves mostly around David's efforts at winning back his estranged girlfriend (Ashley Hinshaw's Jill) - with the familiar atmosphere alleviated by Dennis Iliadis' steady directorial hand and a sporadic emphasis on elements of a decidedly inexplicable nature. The film's sharp turn for the strange initially holds a great deal of promise, as Iliadis does a nice job of weaving the oddball attributes within Bill Gullo's screenplay into the fast-paced narrative - with the puzzle-like vibe playing a key role in the movie's early success (ie the viewer can't help but attempt to stay one step ahead of the characters in terms of figuring out just what's going on). And although many of the plot's twists and turns are undeniably quite thrilling (and unexpected), +1 does begin to fizzle out once it passes a certain point - as it becomes more and more difficult to swallow the actions and behavior of the various characters (ie their approach to the oddball situation seems dictated more by plot than by plausibility). It's all quite watchable, certainly, and yet it's hard to envision the narrative standing up to close scrutiny, which, when coupled with a palpably unsatisfying conclusion, confirms +1's place as an intriguing effort that can't quite sustain a consistent tone throughout.
An often extraordinarily tedious horror effort, Delirium follows Topher Grace's Tom as he's released from a mental institution after a 20 year stint and forced to spend a month cooped up in his dead parents' enormous estate - with the movie detailing Tom's growing suspicion that he's not alone in the expansive home. It's a familiar premise that's employed to instant (and increasingly) tedious effect by director Dennis Iliadis, as the filmmaker employs an excessively deliberate pace that highlights the various deficiencies within Adam Alleca's unreasonably spare screenplay - with the egregious emphasis on the is-it-real-or-is-it-just-in-Tom's-head element certainly perpetuating the movie's often interminable vibe. And although Iliadis has peppered the one-note narrative with some positive attributes - eg Grace's admittedly strong turn as the tortured central character - Delirium's repetitive midsection, which seems to consist solely of scene after scene of Tom skulking the home and looking frightened, ensures that the movie runs out of steam long before it reaches its comparatively electrifying third act. (It's worth noting, however, that even this portion of the proceedings contains a generic, paint-by-numbers feel that proves rather disastrous.) The end result is a disappointing misfire that's too similar to other, better movies to make much of an impact, and it's ultimately difficult to envision this thin story working even in the context of a short film.