Director: David Blue Garcia
Notable Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope, Jolyon Coy, Sam Douglas, John Larroquette
A chainsaw is a fascinating instrument for a horror film. It represents so many things on so many levels. Cinematically, it’s imposing visually and abrasively loud. It’s a blunt instrument with its weight and it still cuts, but not in nice lean slices. It rips things apart and leaves ragged edges. It’s not a precise instrument of destruction, at least not in the hands of most individuals. It’s an instrument seen for the working class, but a skilled one, and it can be layered with so many more meanings. That’s why its inclusion was such a provocative choice in the title for the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and it was a statement piece in Tobe Hooper’s original horror milestone classic.
In what some might deem a fun twist of fate, the latest entry into this decades long-running horror franchise, confusingly titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film that feels like a chainsaw had been taken to it. It’s messy, choppy, loud, and - just like those chainsaw competitions that ESPN shows on Saturday afternoons - it’s stupidly enjoyable with the appropriate mindset.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre starts with a very simple story. A handful of young entrepreneurs come into a small Texas ghost town looking to sell the real estate within the town to a literal busload of potential investors. In the process, they uncover Leatherface living with an elderly woman in an empty orphanage. Leatherface pulls out his chainsaw and away we go.
To say that this film is stripped down to its barebones might be an understatement. Its characters are thinly drawn caricatures of youth in a modern sense, looking to replicate that generational tension between the main characters - urbanites looking to expand out into small town Texas for the experiential concept that clash against an older generation. There’s a handful of fun ideas at play here, including potential connection between the main two sisters, played by Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher, with the town through a line of dialogue about their heritage, but it rarely has the impact in replicating the themes of its predecessor. It’s trimmed fluff that makes the least amount of effort to move the film forward.
The characters themselves have absolutely no real screen time to develop into real people with real connections, but it does manage to inject some fun into their interactions. At times their horrific dispatching at the hands of the monstrous Leatherface feels like its satire, thanks to its relentless pacing, but the film has to work quickly to create any chemistry at all and - in its own odd way - finds those silly slasher cliche moments to deliver on. It’s not “good,” but it’s also not necessarily trying to be more than a baseline reason for the carnage to ensue on screen.
Throughout the film, it’s easy to feel like it was edited to death. And unlike so many of its slashers before it, it’s not the gore that’s being trimmed down for mass consumption, it’s the story and characters. With rumors swirling about horrific test screenings and a director prior to David Blue Garcia that was replaced mid-shoot, one has to wonder if what we see in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just the skin mask of an even uglier and more problematic film before it. Not that it ultimately matters, we’re here to look at the film that Netflix uploaded, but tonally one can feel like entire swaths of plot, story, and character arcs have been ungracefully chainsaw’d from the narrative.
The biggest disappoint of the film comes in its existence as a sequel. The term ‘legacy sequel’ is one that has been regularly used in the realm of modern cinema and it aptly describes what Texas Chainsaw Massacre attempts to do in being a “direct sequel” to the original. I state that it’s attempted and the phrase direct sequel is in quotations for a reason though. The connections to the original are relatively thin and rarely carry any weight.
Most of the time between the 70s and current times are left as vague empty slots for its viewers to fill in the blanks. Why is Leatherface is living in an empty orphanage with an elderly woman played by genre icon Alice Krige? Why is his chainsaw sealed in a wall? Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not necessarily interested in answer any of those questions, at least not unless you stay through the credits for a bit of a tease, and it’s slightly disappointing to know that the film rarely connects to its predecessor. Even the return of the original ‘final girl,’ Hardesty - now played with a dour look by Olwen Fouéré, is wasted potential as she essentially shows up in the second half to fill a perceived void and attract fans of the series. She has little to no effect on anything in the film.
Yet, with all of its issues in a patchy script, thin characters, and a massive missed opportunity with its status as a sequel, a large part of me simply enjoyed Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a slasher flick. Turn off the lights, pop the popcorn, and power down the cognitive analysis. This film is not interested in much more than delivering some slick visuals and massive amounts of kills all packed into a strangely effective sub-90 minutes package.
Director David Blue Garcia and producer Fede Alvarez (the latter known for Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe fame) do deliver on those key slasher elements. Do you want gore? How about decapitations, skinning, and chainsaw impalement. Do you want spectacularly cheesy moments of faux terror? Do you want key visuals that are incredibly well shot with cinematography well above the standard of a slasher? Then you’re in for a treat with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It delivers on all of these in spades.
Whether it’s tension of having one of its leads sneaking around the orphanage as Leatherface skulks around, the visual feast of a field of dead sunflowers, or the sheer insanity of a true chainsaw massacre on a bus, this film is full of intense moments and immense gore. Some of it may not make sense, particularly as a hulking man like Leatherface, played now by Mark Burnham, is suddenly a fucking silent ninja and has an endless supply of gasoline for his chainsaw, but the results remain the same. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a fiercely entertaining modern slasher for its unquenchable bloodletting and ferocious pacing.
For a franchise known for its uneven and often terrible sequels, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is weirdly more effective than so many of its other entries. It’s a film that sacrifices its script and characters for the sake of a gore-soaked landscape and pummeling pace, but it’s a sacrifice that works in the end. While the discourse on the film right now is still relatively heated, it won’t be shocking to find that this ninth entry into the series ends up being a cult favorite a few years down the road.
Gas up, check the chain, and pull the chord. Texas Chainsaw Massacre might be a mess, but it’s one hell of a fun one.