Droopy, Goopy Mess
Netflix’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Doesn’t Cut It
David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a legacy sequel of the same name, has set itself out to fulfill quite a task. It seeks to connect to fans of the series and those new to the franchise.
Largely a direct sequel to the 1974 original, the film sets out to explore the small and near empty town of Harlow with its own brand new cast of characters, while extending the legacy that began forty-eight years ago.
Melody and her sister Lila (Sarah Yarkin, Happy Death Day 2U & Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade, respectively) arrive to the Texas town with chef & business partner Dante (Jacob Lattimore, The Maze Runner) along with his girlfriend, Ruth (Nell Hudson). Once taking in the sun-baked sights the group gets to work in an attempt to re-brand the neighborhood as a destination attraction for restaurants and trendy retail spots. But new attitudes and traditional values clash when these kids come to town.
While inspecting the inside of the building Dante & company has purchased, the team stumbles into an elderly tenant that refuses to vacate the house she inhabits (played by Alice Krige, Silent Hill, Star Trek: First Contact). From here on out, it’s safe to say things go sideways fairly quick.
Not far behind the young entrepreneurs is a bus carrying a crowd of people eager to attend the unveiling of Harlow’s new hotspot for fine dining. But they have something else entirely waiting to greet them, as the town is also home to Leatherface (Mark Burnham, Reality), that poster boy of those infamous bizarre killings dubbed the “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Elsewhere in the Lone Star state, an aging Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, Mandy), who has vowed to hunt Leatherface down if it’s the last thing she does, lies in wait.
The film moves along at a breezy 81 minutes and for the most part matches its pacing with the 2003 Platinum Dunes remake of the same name, as well as its onscreen depiction of brutality, violence, and gore. But there’s definitely something different here, and not everyone’s going to like it.
Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre wants to play more than one hand in this iteration, achieving mixed results by doing so. By splitting its focus between the haunted Sally Hardesty and a brand new group unaware of Leatherface’s propensity for chaos, we get a rather sped-up establishment of stakes. As if to say: cut to the chase. But there’s not much going on there either.
The film spends most of its time with sisters Lila and Melody, weaving in a light but compelling backstory of the former surviving a high school shooting. Lila is brought to Harlow to stick with her sister and becomes unsure of their surroundings, the nature of their new neighborhood lacking a certain hospitable warmth. In a post-“Texas Chain Saw Massacre” world, products are bought and sold with its brand. Gas stations sell cutesy chainsaw-themed sundries (including a well-used corkscrew) and true crime television series speculate about actual events. With this in mind, Harlow residents have plenty reason to be standoffish towards strangers who are there solely to capitalize on cheap property values and exploit them. The film’s plot runs its course by this point, casting the development of its own story aside for an attempt at spectacle. The rest of the running time is just a series of events where our remaining characters run, hide, fight, then rinse and repeat.
Here’s the main problem surrounding Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: it misguidedly distills the terror that transpired in 1974 into Leatherface vs. Sally Hardesty by shaping this sequel into a framework for revenge. But it doesn’t put in the work to do this correctly (Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 achieves Stretch’s revenge arc in extremely satisfactory fashion). Our new cast of characters are flying blind during this entire ordeal, and Sally doesn’t care to instruct anyone about what Leatherface is capable of, nor does she seem to want to prevent this from happening to anyone else like it did her. There’s also quite a gap between how the film wants us to see Leatherface and who he really is. In 1974 he was childlike in nature and prone to suggestion, but to be fair, was portrayed as a completely raw force devoid of identity. Here in 2022 he’s shown as undoubtedly capable of the higher functions he lacked in the past but chooses not to use them, least of all subtlety and reason. Without making an effort to show its audience any fundamental change between Leatherface from the past to the present, Massacre by default boils him down to just another killer with a theme.
Leatherface has been kept as a resident in a decrepit orphanage, let loose by the owner and caretaker’s untimely death. Thus the film sets him out to represent the embodiment of evil, fully aware of his wrongdoing and complicit nature to his family’s operation. It’s one thing for Sally to believe this after all this time but simply outlandish for the film to present it to us this way. Throw in some CGI gore FX, ill-conceived throwaway dialogue, and eye-rolling telegraphing, and the film achieves the opposite of what it thought it set out to do. It’s not engaging or terrifying enough for those who connect with Tobe Hooper’s original film and is far too tame and empty to garner its own devoted fanbase within this singular film. Instead of reviving the franchise in its own unique way it aims to set up more of what we’ve already gotten in the past (coming very close to the butchered Texas Chainsaw 3D), and in presentation certainly feels like a Blumhouse title, but not in the way it aims to. Sadly, near everything the film makes the effort to set up gets left utterly unused and squanders its own potential.
Over the course of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original classic, we experience joy and horror with its innocent & unsuspecting characters as if we were there. We run with them across the empty Texan expanse in the blood-curdling realization that there is nothing out there. True terror is a vacuum. More pointedly, true terror makes a painstaking effort in order to create a vacuum. It has to keep its subjects within these boundaries, and as long as it does, it knows that it can do anything it wants within them. There is a vague notion of these boundaries in the 2022 film but in failing to even attempt to build tension, it loses focus on manifesting the only thing Leatherface excels at: generating fear. There is an upswing during the final act as events start to culminate, and this frankly supplies the best moments of the entire movie but in almost no time it kills its own momentum. It turns almost on a dime and makes you wish that this were more of a comedy instead.
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This article was originally published February 18th, 2022 on Geek Vibes Nation.