Texas Chainsaw Massacre - New Release Review
Director: David Blue Garcia
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Sarah Yarkin, Olwen Fouéré, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Nell Hudson
Written by: Chris Thomas Devlin
Produced by: Fede Alvarez, Pat Cassidy, Ian Henkel, Kim Henkel, Rodo Sayagues, Shintaro Shimosawa
Cinematography by: Ricardo Diaz
Original Score by: Colin Stetson
After nearly 50 years in hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town.
When it was announced back in February 2020 that a deal to bring a brand new ‘Texas Chainsaw’ film back to our screens was inked with Legendary Pictures involved, horror fans raised their eyebrows tentatively with both intrigue and reservation. The franchise had suffered from its fair share of hits and misses over the years with sequels, prequels and a remake and then prequel to the remake. The timeline can get confusing so Fede Alvarez and Rodrigo Sayagues' company Big Hombre decided to return to the original classic. Serving as a legacy sequel 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' cooks up some insane gore, incredible tension and a very, scary version of Leatherface.
Harlow, Texas. A tiny settlement hours away from any real civilization is now a ghost town. But a small group of idealistic young adults want to change that and bring to it a new lease of life. Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin) are two fiercely determined chefs with a vision, looking to team up with young investors and worthy business owners seeking a bright, unique opportunity. While clearly buoyant entrepreneurs, there's nothing overtly capitalist about the pair and they're portrayed as youthful, empathetic leaders who genuinely want to create change.
"All it needs is young blood. People like us, tired of the big city, looking for a fresh start." - Dante on the town of Harlow.
Opening with a brief recap of the original nightmarish story (complete with some footage from the 1974 classic spliced with new stuff and the familiar dulcet tones of narrator John Larroquette) which is screening on a small television set at a isolated gas station, we meet Lila (Elsie Fisher) the younger, introverted sister of Melody who has joined the group on this venture because she is suffering from some sort of PTSD (more on that later). The gas station in question has been turned into somewhat of a mini museum in ode to the infamous crimes that took place around these parts in August 1973. Even selling chainsaw corkscrews. Very authentic. This is usually where the prototypical "harbinger" character arrives spouting warnings of terrible future endeavours for our protagonists but we don't quite get that here. Instead we're reminded that the man behind those hideous, unsolved crimes is still out there and nobody knows what he looks like. Interestingly it doesn't mention a family. Just one man (Is this a soft recon?) This set-up also drops hints that the group are expected by the locals (if that's what you can even call them) and that Lila is the vulnerable one of the bunch. Rounding out our team of four is Ruth (Nell Hudson), Dante's fiancé and number one supporter.
When the group arrive in Harlow they immediately vocalise their intent for new businesses; a comic book store, an art gallery, restaurants. There's a real sense of optimism about the group and they're quite likeable for it. But the optimism begins to wane instantly when they realise that one of the buildings, a former orphanage, is still being inhabited by the sick, elderly lady who previously owned it. And she's not the only person who lives there.
The premise becomes a little muddled with the inclusion of a subplot. Elsie is a school shooter survivor and Melody's need to help protect her little sister is one of the main reasons why they decided to make the move to irrelevant, small town Texas. While it's an interesting angle and clearly believable it's not explored sufficiently throughout the film and feels a little like a rushed addition to help give her extra "survivor" mentality. The film does attempt to say some things here although not enough to call it commentary. There’s definitely room for discussion about the idea of big city folk attempting to gentrify rural America and whether or not anything good can really come out of it. And Garcia is clearly highlighting recent atrocities. Dante warns the group to "put your hands where they can see 'em" when they're stopped by the Sheriff and later he also takes exception to a battered Confederate flag that aimlessly waves from a lonely flagpole outside the caged windows of the orphanage.
Speaking of the orphanage. This is the building that pays spiritual homage to the old slaughterhouse from Hooper's original where Sally and her friends were terrorised almost 50 years ago. It's got a similar layout with stairs to the right and a door straight ahead leading to the kitchen. Leatherface is living here with his "mother" played by the fantastic Alice Krige. After the arrival of Dante and Melody, the elderly lady has a heart attack and passes away on her journey to the hospital. Leatherface, played by the hulking Mark Burnham, has accompanied her in the Sheriff's van and loses his mind when his "mother" stops breathing. This is where the fun begins. His first act of violence is brutally grotesque and he ends up killing both lawmen and Ruth, who was also in the vehicle. This is why we're all here right? To see Leatherface rip through innocent people right? Well if that's what you want then you surely won't be disappointed. The kills are bloody and gory and some of the attacks are extremely visceral. One kill was especially disturbing, though mostly due to the sound. And the sound is good. Lots of tributes to the original with a fabulously creepy score by Colin Stetson. Much was said about the investor bus massacre when the trailer dropped and for better or worse this is a scene that will be talked about for a very long time. Leatherface literally flinging limbs about, just going apeshit with his chainsaw is a hell of a lot of fun.
Presumably Leatherface had been subduing his violent desires all these years in the care of the elderly lady, who admits to having previously looked after him in his youth. So before his carnage really and truly kicks off we do get a moment of sympathy towards the butcher even in the wake of a meat cleaver assault and some literal defacing. But when that chainsaw engine stutters up there's no going back.
The film does a great job at making Leatherface terrifying. Something that the original sequels lacked. It also excels in creating some great tension, especially just after the Sheriff's van crashes leading to his first kills and when Melody is hiding in the orphanage.
Olwen Fouéré, as Sally Hardesty, is fantastic as always but she deserved so much more screen time than what she eventually got. At the beginning of the film the news report playing on the TV at the gas station mentions Sally as the only survivor and that she fell into some sort of silent disquietude following the horrific events. She gets a call from the man at the gas station who hears Ruth's pleas for help over the radio so she packs up and heads out. Later that evening she eventually comes across the Sheriff's van and dead bodies. We then don't see her again until the third act of the film. This is after Leatherface has already killed all but two of the entire cast. It's understandably difficult to find the correct balance between legacy characters and the new casts' screen time but I would've liked to have checked in with Sally a little earlier and gotten some morsels of her story. Having an air of mystery can be a positive thing of course but I selfishly wanted more. All we really get prior to this is the vague explanation that she became a Texas Ranger and has been searching for Leatherface, unsuccessfully. When she finally arrives there's a bit of unsatisfactory confusion about what she's actually going to do but her moment of heroism in the wake of initial hesitation is solid and works as a passing of the torch in an almost literal fashion. Her brief face-to-face interaction with Leatherface (before the shit hits the fan) is intensely heartbreaking for her as she realises that she means nothing to him. Olwen Fouéré can express so much emotion with what looks like very little work.
Sarah Yarkin as Melody is the shining star of the new cast. Very believable with a spunky attitude who lights up the screen every time she's on. She's the only one who shows any real sign of remorse after the old lady dies and at the possibility that it was essentially their fault. I found myself desperately wanting her to survive and if you find yourself rooting hard for at least one character then the film has done something right. Horror films usually have characters that don’t act like real human beings and there’s a bit of that here too but Yarkin and Fisher have great chemistry and work well as admirable final girls.
‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ will likely be hated by some but it's an enjoyable ride and it's great to see an enduring character like Leatherface taking names and kicking ass again. Suitable throwbacks to Tobe Hooper's iconic film with some impressive visuals and at under 90 minutes it doesn't mess around. Grab your popcorn and be sure to stay until the end…the very end.
- Gavin Logan
'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix