Texas Chainsaw Massacre Review - More Roadkill Than Choice Cuts
Brant Lewis describes Texas Chainsaw Massacre as being akin to more of a cash grab than honoring the legacy of a beloved horror franchise. Spoilers ahead.
After a five-year hiatus following Leatherface (2017), Netflix released the streamer Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) on February 18, 2022. The movie ignores the events of the first series of franchise films, the reboot series, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), and Leatherface—continuing where the 1974 cult classic ends. Based on the bold reimagining of Evil Dead (2013), I had high expectations for a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film that sadly was not met by this entry, directed by David Blue Garcia with a screeplay by Chris Thomas Devlin. Fede Álverez and Rodo Sayagues—the pair behind the Evil Dead remake and Don't Breathe (2016)—served as producers and received story credits.
Taking place fifty years after the original, a group of young upstarts travel to the ghost town of Harlow, Texas—planning to revitalize it and gentrify the town of Harlow after auctioning it off ot the highest bidder. The group consists of business entrepreneurs Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), along with her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) and his girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson). They drive to the abandoned town in a sleek self-driving car. Yet, their dreams soon disappear when they discover that Harlow has two residents left over, an older woman named Ms. Mc (Alice Krige) and her adopted son, an older Leatherface (Mark Burnham). He has been hiding after killing Sally Hardesty's friends. Speaking of Sally (Olwen Fouéré), following the tragedy, she became a Texas Ranger and has been hunting Leatherface ever since.
Getting the Michael Myers-shaped elephant out of the room, it is very apparent that the team took a giant inspiration from Halloween (2018) when creating and marketing the movie. Outside of ignoring the numerous sequels, the inclusion of Sally as a more weathered badass who prays for the opportunity to kill Leatherface strongly mirrors Laurie Strode and Michael Myers expanded relationship in the new Halloween trilogy. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre largely follows that formula to a fine, if not mostly adequate, effect. Outside of the name, the elements of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film are here but fail to come together. You have rural Texas, city folk, chainsaws, barbeque, John Larroquette's narration, and face masks, but it does not gel completely. It has the aesthetic of a TCM film but not the heart of one.
A standout aspect of the film is Ricardo Diaz's cinematography. He does a great job of emphasizing Texas's rural and dusty parts, even in Bulgaria where filming took place. It's shot incredibly well—a highlight being the abandoned rainy streets of Harlow at night. Similarly, his framing of the set pieces is fantastic. The cinematography is a stunning positive that adds to the film where other elements detract from the experience.
Elsie Fisher also gives a stand out performance. Despite not being given much to work with, Fisher makes the viewer care about Lila. In addition, Sarah Yarkin, as Melody, makes the most of the material and brings believability to their relationship. Olwen Fouéré, as Sally, emphasizes what the trauma surrounding the murder of her friends did to her. Yet, I wish she was introduced more organically and did not feel like a copy of an older Laurie while having a more significant part in the story. Mark Burnham's portrayal of Leatherface ignores what time could do to a man and still proves he's an unstoppable killing machine. Sadly, in general, the characters aren't well fleshed out and exist as cutouts for a chainsaw to slice through. We only find out the name of Nell in the credits despite being one of the core four characters.
Top marks to the special effects team. The gore is fantastic; I loved it. Leatherface's new mask and the effects are top-notch. Most of the death scenes are great too. Things are over the top and what I expected from the team that brought us the last Evil Dead film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have always been essentially political, with a class confrontation and distinction between urban and city life compared to life in the country. Particularly with the rural south appearing alien and different than "regular life." The concept of gentrification is exciting and could fit in well with the franchise to bring it to a modern audience. However, the theme in the film feels very surface level and doesn’t get explored. Instead, it provides nothing of value—only explaining why the victims are lured to the slaughter. Gentrification is an ongoing issue affecting towns and cities. It impacts the people living there and would provide a nice callback to the original since Leatherface's hometown of Newt, Texas dries up after the meatpacking industry closes up the slaughterhouse.
It appears that the film might want to examine southern heritage and race as a catalyst for Leatherface's second murder. He kills Dante, who is Black, after he fights with Ms. Mc over her confederate flag. The ensuing argument begins a chain reaction that causes her death. The camera lingers on the flag as if signaling its importance. The sequence is handled poorly and leaves a bad taste in one's mouth as it not only implies Dante's objections to the flag cause the killing spree, but that asking her to remove her flag kills her. Ms. Mc tries to explain that the flag is a reminder of her great-grandfather and for Dante and Melody not to misinterpret its meaning. The flag aspect is then quickly dropped and never brought up again.
The film also brings up current discussions about school shootings, with Lila surviving such an event as part of her backstory. The movie fails to engage actively on the topic and it feels forced whenever it's mentioned or shown. It exists like the themes of gentrification and the confederate flag. The film clearly desires to be relevant to the modern-day issues without understanding how to translate the material. By including these hot button issues without actually exploring them, the shallowness of the effort becomes very apparent. Even the line of a victim with his phone up, live-streaming on Instagram, telling Leatherface, "Try anything, and you're canceled bro," reveals that these elements are more buzzwords than essential aspects the filmmakers wants to grapple with. As a result, the relevancy becomes lost, and the film fails to make a statement.
The film is enjoyable, but it doesn't break new ground. Like some of the entries in the franchise, it can't hope to live up to the original. Even as Leatherface kills his last victim and dances in a nod to the original as Lila's car drives away slowly on auto-pilot, it rings hollow. Much like Leatherface himself, the film would rather wear a mask to replicate what made the original work instead of doing something fresh and unique. The chainsaw is becoming rusty and running out of gas. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre lacks bite and coasts on its IP alone.