Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Cast: Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Coleman, Jessica Madsen, James Bloor, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Finn Jones, Chris Adamson
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 10/20/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 19, 2017
Leatherface is a prequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (not The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, mind you, which was the 2003 remake of the 1974 original and had its own, separate prequel). The idea with this installment, one supposes, is for the franchise to get back to its roots, by showing how the guy wielding a chainsaw and wearing a mask of stitched-together facial skin came to be.
That's the idea. The result is a notably gruesome and particularly cruel horror movie, in which almost every character is a terrible person and the majority of them die in grisly ways—all of which are shown with an almost gleeful attention to detail. It's a bit amusing how these modern interpretations of the late Tobe Hooper's iconic film try to "return" to spirit of the original. Each one has tried to get closer in terms of its story (Before this one, we've had a remake, a prequel, and a direct sequel to the original). Ironically, as each installment gets closer in terms of the narrative, the worse each successive entry has been.
One wonders if these filmmakers are working from the original's reputation, as opposed to what that film did so adeptly and how it did that so mercilessly. The success of Hooper's film wasn't in the violence and gore. It was in the suffocating atmosphere of terror.
Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's stab at "returning" to the series' roots is at the bottom of the very bloody barrel of these newer entries. They, along with screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood, seem the least aware of what made the original work, while trying the hardest to tie their movie's narrative to that film. Here, the man who will come to be known as "Leatherface" is first seen as a child, getting a chainsaw as a birthday present. The other part of his present is a man who's bound to a chair and gagged.
A bit later, the kid and his brothers lure a teenage girl to an abandoned barn, where they have a trap ready for her. With the girl's broken and bloodied body lying in a heap on the ground beneath the barn, one of the siblings pulls a truck engine over her and lets it fall. Bustillo and Maury ensure that the camera is right behind the girl's head, so that blood can splatter all over the camera.
There's a lot of that in-your-face violence, either seeing it in close-up (such as when a cop is eaten alive by some hungry pigs or when another cop gets his hands sliced up, before having a motorized cutting tool impaled in his chest for what has to be about 15 seconds—seen from multiple angles) or with plenty of blood flying at various angles (There's a slaughter at a roadside diner where the results of a waitress' point-blank execution is shown in indulgent slow motion). The movie seems to exist solely for its violence.
It's certainly not for its story, which, 10 years after the teenager's murder, involves an escape from a mental institution for children taken from abusive homes. Of course, the future Leatherface is one of the escapees, although in a fairly useless bit of bait-and-switch, Sherwood makes us think the future mass murderer is one character, when it turns out that he isn't. This, of course, means that we're not really watching an origin story of the masked killer, so much as we're watching a pointless shell game in which the only rules involve an abundance of graphic violence.
There are no decent characters—either in terms of characterization or just plain decency. We get a couple of insane lovers (played by Jessica Madsen and James Bloor), who kill the diner patrons and, to celebrate later, have sex over a corpse. There are Bud (Sam Coleman), a young man with a mental disability, and Jackson (Sam Strike), who's a natural protector. Their good qualities stop mattering as soon as each of them bashes in someone's skull. The future Leatherface's mother (played by Lili Taylor) is a manipulative sociopath, and the key lawman (played by Stephen Dorff) is as homicidal as the escapees. Only Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse), a nurse at the institution who's taken as a hostage, is blandly good, in a pleading, helpless damsel sort of way.
This is exhausting and frustrating, not scary. It's vacuous about the masked killer, not insightful, and it's depressing and nihilistic, not terrifying. Leatherface may have the right name and tool, but the movie is wrong in practically every other way.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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