- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Nothing brings a family together like fending off a pack of mutated freaks.

“The Hills Have Eyes,” a remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 cult hit, drops a bickering brood in the middle of nowhere and then watches them get picked off one by one.

It’s horror movie 101, though director Alexandre Aja of “High Tension” fame brings a touch of finesse to the proceedings.

By finesse, we mean the scenes between the impalings, slashings and gougings are shot with a modicum of care.

Once the blood starts flowing, all aesthetic sensibilities are left for dead.

“Hills” tweaks 1950s-era nuclear testing in a twitchily filmed prologue, both to explain the monstrous family threatening our heroes and as a jab at that decade’s plastic perfection.

There’s little perfect about the extended Carter family, headed for a road trip with plenty of baggage. Patriarch Bob (Ted Levine) doesn’t respect his bespectacled son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford), and young Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) would rather be anywhere than stuck in the family’s RV.

The point becomes moot when a duplicitous local sends the family into a trap disguised as a short cut.

Their vehicles run over a set of spikes, stranding them in a barren valley with no sign of life.

Oh, if only that were the case.

Before long, they’re set upon by a family of freaks descended, the movie tells us, from mutant miners whom nuclear radiation left hideously deformed and craving human flesh.

From here, it’s your standard horror clash, with family members dying right and left while young Doug summons the courage to protect his wife and young child.

Squint hard enough, and you’ll see echoes of “Straw Dogs” in Doug’s transformation, down to the spider web of cracks on his lenses. But “Hills” has little interest in “Dogs’” anthropological underpinnings. It’s all about the gore, and if nothing else, the film serves it up without remorse.

Mr. Aja attempts some modest commentary about reaping what we sow, but the unexpurgated violence and a niftier-than-expected score will flush any deep thoughts out for good in the final minutes.

“The Hills Have Eyes” ends with a lazy sequel setup, but there’s nothing so novel about these “Hills” that warrants a follow-up.

Of course, that never stopped Jason, Freddy and their ilk from haunting the movie house ad infinitum.

**

TITLE: “The Hills Have Eyes”

RATING: R (Violence, excessive gore, disturbing situations and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Alexandre Aja. Written by Mr. Aja and Gregory Levasseur based on the 1977 original film’s screenplay by Wes Craven.

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/thehillshaveeyes/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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