In the tragedies of ancient Greece the "harmartia" of the tragic hero usually involved an act of "hubris," to show that once again pride goeth before the fall. But the key part of the hero's tragic flow was that they had to be culpable in their own downfall, so that they were never the innocent victims of his fate. There is something at work in horror films, especially of the splatter flick variety, in which the victims have to do something that dooms them to being sliced, diced and whatever the psychopaths that await them want to do to them. In these films it is never pride that dooms them, but rather stupidity, often on a level of such sheer unbelievably that its only function is for you to want these people to die because they are literally too stupid to live. For me the epitome of this in films of recent vintage was the remake of "House of Wax," where Jared Padelicki's character sets a record for going into the wrong places time and time again until something really horrible happens to him.
"The Hills Have Eyes" starts off in a similar vein. If you are driving across the Nevada desert and you stop at a gas station that is so old and decrepit that it must have been ten years since (a) they cleaned the place and (b) received a shipment of gas, and if the old coot (Tom Bower) that runs the place tells you there is a short cut to your destination, then how stupid do you have to be to take his advice? Just to make things clear, you choice is between THE ONLY PAVED ROAD IN SIGHT and a dirt road that leads off into the hills. To add insult to injury, the person making this decision, the father of this doomed little nuclear family happens to be an ex-cop. The bad news is that he should know better, but the good news is that he has a gun. Not that it will do him any god.
The dirt road is a trap. A car is never going to make it all the way down the road, which leads to a faux town that was built by the U.S. military to test what happens to buildings (and manikins) when exposed to one of the 300-plus nuclear blasts set off in the area. The town was out of the blast radius, but not out of the range of the nuclear radiation. So was the mining camp whose occupants refused to leave just because the government was setting off atomic bombs for several years. Their descendants, a group of mutated and probably incestuous cannibals, are looking forward to their next meals. That would be the family of Big Bob Carter (Ted Levine), his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), teenage son Bobby (Dan Byrd), youngest daughter Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), oldest daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), her husband Doug (Aaron Stanford), and their baby Catharine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi).
The real nuclear family of this film consists of Papa Jupiter (Billy Drago), Big mama (Ivana Turchetto), Pluto (Michael Bailey Smith), Lizard (Robert Joy), Ruby (Laura Ortiz), Goggle (Ezra Buzzington), and Big Brain (Desmond Askew). There are a couple of kids, the next generation of mutant cannibals as it were, but they do not take part in the festivities. Having arranged for the Carters to be stuck in the desert, they wait for their victims to start going for help so they can be picked off one by one. No matter what direction you go in these hills, you are doomed. Doomed, do you hear me? Doomed! The only problem is that there is a baby involved, and why the guy stupid enough to drive down the dirt road might deserve this and the girls sunbathing themselves are inviting disaster, the same cannot be said for an innocent little baby.
The most interesting thing about this movie is that over ninety percent of it takes place during the daytime, usually in the brightness of the desert sun. Splatter flicks usually take place in the dark, but this is a movie that wants you to see what is going on most of time. Director Alexandre Aja ("Haute tension") and his constant co-writer Gregory Levasseur, take the original 1977 screenplay by Wes Craven and run with it. Things are a bit slow at first, mainly because as long as the sun is up you can see the monsters are not out there waiting, while in the darkness it is much easier to imagine. Once the blood and gore start being spilled things pick up and there are enough set pieces to whet your appetite, but I will fully admit that I rounded up on this one because the hero ends up being the character that is most like me (to wit, the one who really should have been the first to die). I also appreciate that he follows my long held personal advice for people in such situations, which is to use any and all objects, both blunt and sharp, to kill the monsters and to never, ever think that one blow might be sufficient. Finally, the film has a very appropriate final shot for the inevitable "it is not really over" bit that always comes at the end of splatter flicks.