Decidedly anti-Griswolds The Hills Have Eyes serves up a horrifying twist on the tired family-road-trip sub-genre. On their way to San Diego the Carters led by patriarch Big Bob (Ted Levine) make a pit stop for gas in a New Mexico desert town. But when Bob decides to take a little detour along the windy roads he slams his truck--and the trailer hitched to it--into a rock rendering it useless and leaving the clan to fend for themselves while they wait for help. Problem is help ain’t comin’! When Bob and his son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford) go out to look only one returns and it becomes (quite literally) painfully obvious that they are not as alone as they might’ve hoped. Turns out this “desert” is a nuclear wasteland that has spawned bloodthirsty misanthropic mutants as inhabitants. The locals are getting hungry and it’s breakfast time!
Acting is always cumbersome in horror flicks especially with today’s scrutinous audiences and deafening decibel levels that accentuate flaws. But the cast members here flesh out their characters better than in similar fare. Leading the way surprisingly is Dan Byrd (Cinderella Story) whose teenager Bobby is forced to defend his family. Byrd displays proper teenage angst with equal control so as not to make his character laughably emotional; his performance is sure to be underrated. Stanford well past his Tadpole days goes from uptight yuppie to ticked-off family guy and does so with conviction. Levine (TV’s Monk) always criminally underappreciated adds another notch to his belt even if this notch is more of a cameo; yes it was he who creeped you out as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs! The ladies Carter--Kathleen Quinlan Vinessa Shaw and Lost’s Emilie De Ravin--also do fine work but they are a bit overshadowed by the two younger male leads who set out to be the heroes.
The Hills Have Eyes is a remake of Wes Craven’s evil baby born in 1977 of the same name. Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension) updates his version to keep it in line with today’s slick hard-gore standards but Craven who produced this version has his influence smeared all over. Aja is certainly commendable for not toning down his version and going all PG-13 on us--which is usually par for the course; there is undoubtedly nasty bite to this film. However there’s not a whole lot else to praise. His monster-mutants are somewhat dubious up close and personal and this is one occasion in which a horror would’ve been better served to leave a little more to the imagination--even though it all ties in to an unnecessary commentary on nukes and humanity. And while the desolate desert’s calm before the storm is beautifully menacing once the storm erupts you feel like you’re right back in Hollywood.