Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Review

In 1974 the world was gifted with the primal, gnarly assault of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from director Tobe Hooper. When the final twenty minutes of your film could be a gruesome midnight movie all on its own you know you’ve got gold. We then proceeded to wring every last drop of creativity from the franchise and drive it into the ground with alternate timelines, reboots (the 2003 Platinum Dunes film scared the shit out of me as a teenager and I’m…absolutely terrified to revisit it), and even somehow prequels. Now in 2022 we’ve got an attempt to take it back to the original, discarding all of the other films ala David Gordon Green’s Halloween [2018] and make a legacy sequel. Hell, they even tried to bring back Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, as the director couldn’t get Marilyn Burns due to a case of *checks notes* death) to have her final showdown with the iconic killer Leatherface.

So it’s a shame that this thing is a complete and total shitshow.

I’ve always appreciated the messiness of this franchise, but most of the mess to be enjoyed consists of blood and entrails being flung to the winds willy-nilly. Fede Álvarez may have had the original concept (and if he’d directed this might have been watchable), but when he handed it off to writer Chris Thomas Devlin and director David Blue Garcia things went off the rails. There’s an interesting idea buried within this film, but the execution takes B-movie camp and gives it the titular chain saw.

Our plot is actually kind of an interesting one. Young twenty-somethings Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) have negotiated with a Texas bank to assist with the auction of abandoned town Harlow. Their thought is to heavily gentrify the place and turn it into a Gen-Z paradise, but they run into a complication when they discover that the orphanage is the only occupied building in town. See, Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige) still has one more orphan under her care; a hulking mute that has a familiar shape (Mark Burnham, as the director couldn’t get Gunnar Hansen due to a case of *checks notes* death). The two attempt to evict the elderly woman, but she suffers a heart attack and her brick-shithouse of an adopted son joins her in the ambulance. Things go very predictably downhill from here, culminating in a new massacre that’s captured on live-streaming smartphones.

I wanted to love this. After years of defending some of the other films in this franchise (particularly 2017’s Leatherface) I desperately wanted this to be good. It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t even good trash, it’s just trash. I enjoy some violent kills in a slasher movie, but when you’ve got nothing working on any other level it gets old fast. I have no idea how a film that’s the exact same length can feel three times as long. The film is a cage of gripes with youth stereotypes, red-state glorification of violence and racism, and characters so thin they’d blow away in a light breeze.

The one shining gleam of hope lies in the character of Lila (Elsie Fischer, an alum of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and potentially a true movie star), a school shooting survivor that must come to terms with her trauma to take down Leatherface. It’s literally right there, but the film is obsessed with having its cake (Sally v Leatherface round two) and eating it, too (mocking extreme sides of the political spectrum in a country that is consuming itself through capitalist obsessions). The result of this mishmash of different ideas feels like a scripting problem, with too many cooks in the kitchen, all trying to make a different dish. I like the idea of gentrification encroaching on the territory of small towns, revealing dark secrets while bringing its own sort of evil. I like the idea of a trauma survivor overcoming to take down a legend. I adore the idea of aggressive rednecks getting chainsawed after bullying people for the crime of being mildly different than they are used to. All of these things exist within this modern sequel, but they all try to play at the same time and none of it lands.

I will highlight the score by Colin Stetson (saxophonist and regular collaborator with bands like Arcade Fire and Bon Iver). The guy did great work for Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, but here he’s just let off the leash to go buck wild on a score that contains as much creepy atmosphere as it does crying babies. Whenever someone offers something so gonzo I have to praise it, and as much as the score is a cliche it nails everything you could want from a horror score with the precision of a master. It’s a glorious bit of work that, at times, rattles like the chainsaw it’s backing with chilling bombast.

Look, there’s not much else to say about this film. There’s a lot of blood, but I’m sad to say that there’s no bite left in the franchise if this is the direction they’re going. Rumors abound about this film being sold to Netflix after Legendary went through a series of disastrous test screenings and it’s plain to see why. There’s no saving Texas Chainsaw Massacre through editing as the problems started during the writing stage of production. I was really looking forward to this, and I think that makes it hurt all the worse. Not quite on the level of a chainsaw to the gut, but still.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming on Netflix if you’re feeling masochistic.

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