Review by David Baldwin
Based on some of the tweets I have been seeing on Film Twitter this past week, I feel confident saying a whole lot of people are going to proclaim this newest incarnation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the worst movie of the year. Maybe even the decade. Perhaps even of the entire franchise that has spanned six decades and counting. After that first trailer hit a few weeks ago, it is an easy target. The film revolves around a group of Gen Z entrepreneurs descending into a deserted, rundown Texas town they may or may not own all of the property deeds to, and selling each building to young investors looking to invest their money in an untapped real estate market. It all feels a little too on the nose and their running into Leatherface (Mark Burnham) feels all too well choreographed — and a not so subtle take on the implications of gentrification. Not one of these characters is well characterized, no matter how much time they have on-screen. With the exception of one minor individual, the rest spend the movie as lambs acting and reacting to their being led to slaughter.
So if you are hoping for more nuance, depth or a reason for this “requel” to exist…you likely will not find any of that here and should probably just skip it.
On the other hand, if you are looking to quench a bloodthirsty itch for young people getting destroyed by chainsaws and sledgehammers, well then you are in luck! Because Texas Chainsaw Massacre is extremely pleased to deliver on those fronts, by the bucket load.
To say this film is graphic is an understatement. The kills here are some of the most gruesome and disturbing ones put to film in quite some time. The way Leatherface uses people’s bones against them is plenty enough reason to keep you up at night, and the sheer amount of blood being spilled is rather obscene. The way he whips around the chainsaw is a thing of beauty, and I caught myself wheezing and yelping out loud during some of the carnage that ensues. As a gorehound, there is a lot to admire here and some of the makeup effects the camera lingers on are ridiculously well done. I wish there was a bit less CGI in some scenes, as it blatantly stands out in contrast to the practical work and some of the disgusting things happening in the margins (like one person getting their face peeled off so our villain can wear it stretched across their own for the rest of the film). I would hate to see what an Unrated Cut of this film looks like (if it even exists), and am quite certain it never would have played in a theatre without some judicious edits being made.
Where the film stumbles is when it tries to be something it is not. For one, it tries to echo and rehash the plot of David Gordon Green’s Halloween from 2018 wholesale, bringing back the original film’s final girl Sally Hardesty (played here by Irish actress Olwen Fouéré from Mandy) to face off against Leatherface again. Screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin, working from a story by Producers Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (who wrote and produced the Don’t Breathe films and the remake of Evil Dead, which explains the gleefully gratuitous gore), peppers in some references to her being haunted by her murdered friends as well as the desperation she faces hunting a man she has not been able to find for nearly 50 years. Outside of these brief moments however, there is not much else to go on and virtually no reason for you to want to see her succeed. Literally anything we felt for Laurie Strode’s plight in Halloween…is completely missing here. Sally is just another unextraordinary character and her usage feels like a cheap way for this film to ignore every other entry in the series except for the original.
Another stumbling block is Lila’s (Elsie Fisher, from the brilliant Eighth Grade) backstory involving being a survivor of a school shooting. They thankfully do not dive into it too much outside from a reference here and a scar there. Yet every time they do, it feels gross and exploitive in all the wrong ways. I understand the desire to have her face a modern day trauma head-on and use it to overcome the horrific situation she finds herself in, but could they not have picked something different and perhaps less controversial? Something that feels a little less realistic and more tee-hee destruction of those pesky Gen-Z’ers and their desire to gentrify every last vestige of whatever has not already been bought up by land developers? No amount of trigger warnings is going to prepare you for seeing her bloodied teenage body laying in a high school hallway amongst numerous bloody corpses, listening to the gunshots in the distance. It is too visceral and disturbing, even for a movie where a serial killer is literally chopping people to pieces with a chainsaw.
I could keep going on and on, but I will leave that to my colleagues and anyone else on Film Twitter brave enough to endure all of the gory chaos that ensues in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I did not hate the movie by any stretch, nor did I love it. The makeup and gore effects are great (with the practical work vastly outshining any use of CGI), and the sun soaked aesthetic that does its best to match Tobe Hooper’s from the original film is pretty good – at least before it descends into a thunderstorm for the ages. Leatherface standing in a field of sunflowers still looks ridiculous though. There are a few fun references and homages, and the 83-minute runtime is a genuine delight, never allowing the film to overstay its welcome and getting right to the point incredibly quickly.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have never been all that great and have never really matched up to that legendary original film. So if you are expecting this one to change things, then you need to set your expectations a bit lower. If your expectations are merely “watch Leatherface wave his chainsaw around and destroy anyone who gets in his way”, well then you should come away quite pleased.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is available to stream on Netflix now.