THE STORY – Influencers looking to breathe new life into a Texas ghost town encounter Leatherface, the legendary killer who wears a mask of human skin.
THE CAST – Elsie Fisher, Sarah Yarkin, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson & Alice Krige
THE TEAM – David Blue Garcia (Director) & Chris Thomas Devlin (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 81 Minutes
By Cody Dericks
We just can’t let the past die, can we? Like most areas of pop culture, a good portion of the horror genre now keeps one eye on the uncertain future and another tear-stained eye aimed longingly at the rosy past. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is the latest attempt to soft reboot a beloved horror franchise, and, like many recent cinematic retreads, it’s a direct sequel to the original film featuring a combination of returning veterans and new, younger characters. It also exemplifies many of the weaknesses and stumbling points that franchise “requels” (to borrow a phrase from the latest “Scream“) often encounter – desperate attempts to capture the feeling and tone of the original, suspect injections of topical hot-button issues, and an annoyingly worshipful appreciation for the series’ founding film.
A quartet of young entrepreneurs makes their way from the big city to the abandoned, desolate Texas town of Harlow. Their scheme involves auctioning off the old properties to hip trendsetters in order to create a modern, revitalized town. However, some of the original residents are not so keen to leave their property, including a silent, imposing man (Mark Burnham) who turns out to be the infamous chainsaw-loving Leatherface. When his mother is aggressively kicked out of her homestead by the aspirational group of young folks, Leatherface turns his wrath upon those who unintentionally seek to upend his life.
The most attention-grabbing hook this film employs involves the return of Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré), the only survivor of the original film. The film posits that she’s spent nearly 50 years preparing to eventually face off with the man who initially terrorized her a half-century prior. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of modern horror will recognize how similar this concept feels to David Gordon Green’s 2018 film “Halloween.” Both films feature the final girl from its series’ legendary first film, who’s long been getting ready to meet her fateful foe inevitably. And much like in “Halloween,” this plot point is just as ridiculous and apparent in its intentions in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Rather than being a rallying moment of excitement for long-term franchise fans, it’s instead a depressing portrayal of a damaged woman who doesn’t seek to examine anything resembling her inner life. The creators clearly hoped to siphon credibility and dramatic impact from the 70s slasher classic. It only comes across as cheap.
Many of the best horror films have a long-lasting legacy not only because of the effectiveness of the filmmaking but also because they frequently function as an allegory for a wide range of political or psychological topics, even if accidentally. 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” achieves this level of insight on a wide range of potential matters – it can be viewed as a metaphor for the Vietnam War or as an examination of the violence that inherently bubbles under the surface of all American life. And, of course, it can simply be viewed as a horrifying slasher film that both thrills and upsets. This latest film seeks to achieve profundity by bolding and underlining pressing social issues; indeed, in its first 15 minutes, the film makes mention of gun violence, racial relations, police profiling, and gentrification. This onslaught of never-fully-examined political talking points only seeks to make the movie seem hollower than it already is. Horror almost always works best as a political or social metaphor rather than by using direct depiction, as this film attempts to do.
If, however, the film is looked at as merely a fun, gory time, there’s some enjoyment to be found. All the kills are delightfully brutal and should satisfy those horror fans with a taste for blood. While some of them strive to be too clever for their own good, it at least provides a schlocky respite from the lackluster plot and ham-fisted messages with which the film is otherwise stuffed.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” perfectly exemplifies a rising trend in horror – the nostalgic reboot crammed with ideas but unable to tie them all together in a meaningful manner. One can only hope that, much like Leatherface slapping someone else’s face onto himself, the franchise can apply a fresh new look to itself with whatever is sure to come next.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Some brutally fun kills are sure to satisfy the more blood-thirsty horror fans.
THE BAD – The plot is absurd – it’s both too enamored of the franchise’s own past, featuring characters from the original film, and tries too hard to be current and topical with poorly explored social themes.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS – None