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Top Tier Carnage Can’t Make Up for Everything Else Wrong with the New “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Review)

Image courtesy of Netflix

Netflix’s newest Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a sequel to the original entry in the long running slasher series that ostensibly purges the various other sequels, prequels, and remakes from canon ala Jurassic World or David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), does one thing extremely well: demonstrate in extremely graphic detail a great many ways a chainsaw can be used to, ahem, massacre a goodly number of young people with the misfortune of drifting into Leatherface’s orbit. The film’s first kill, this one sans chainsaw, is an exquisite little showpiece of genre gore that sets a tone for murderous intensity that is perhaps unmatched among major horror releases.

The film’s blessedly brief 83 minute run time showcases one of the highest body counts I can recall in a slasher flick. One noteworthy sequence sees Leatherface methodically cut his way through a bus full of teens with a chainsaw, of course. The action sequences are better edited and more comprehensible than most slasher flicks. The violence is relentlessly over the top in a way I imagine will satisfy a great many gore hounds. Would that the only measure of a film’s quality were the extremity of its murders…

Image courtesy of Netflix

Quite literally everything else about the film is an unmitigated disaster.

Horror does not have to try to have a message. There are some perfectly pleasant slasher movies with little in the way of commentary like the delightfully nasty Haunt from a few years back. The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre delves into parts of the country that choose affirmatively to exist outside of societal norms. The terror in the original film is not merely a crazy guy with a chainsaw – it’s the very idea that there are people who choose not to live the “safe” way that others do.

This new Texas Chainsaw Massacre also attempts to grapple with thematic resonance and in doing so embarrasses itself. The film’s characters, liberals in deep Texas, attempt to lazily grapple with the culture wars. From an awkward exchange over a confederate flag to the inevitable tension with a gun-toting Texan, the “commentary” is lazy and heavy-handed. There is perhaps even a sane read of the film that sees this as a story where the libs are getting owned for trying to mess with Texas.

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Leatherface, more than ever before, is nearly a victim. When the film begins, he’s a peaceful giant living in the attic of his mom’s house until the protagonists’ efforts to evict his mother leads to her heart attack and death. I wish I were fabricating this plot point. Predictably, the efforts to humanize Leatherface serve the purpose of making the character less effective, or sensible. When he later approaches a group of yoots with chainsaw in hand, all of the Gen Zs take out their phones and film him. One threatens Leatherface that he will be canceled if he does anything… which invariably leads to the film’s most gleefully murderous sequence. It’s clear the filmmakers are delighted by the carnage. The thematic goals here are muddled at best, and offensive at worst.

In yet another theft from Halloween (2018), the film relies upon the audience’s nostalgia for the original film. Olwen Fouéré (Beast) takes over the role of original film final girl Sally Hardesty (original actress Marilyn Burns passed in 2014). I count The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as my favorite slasher film, and even I view Sally as a lesser tier final girl. Contributor Rowan Wood wrote last week an essay praising the virtues of the original film that could not help but conclude “Sally is relatively unremarkable in the grand pantheon of final girls.” The recasting of the part removes the emotional meta-element present in the recent Halloween entries from viewers long term connections to Jamie Lee Curtis. Fouéré is, evidently, a wonderful stage actress but can do nothing to make this thankless role work. Fundamentally, I can’t imagine there are any viewers all that keen to see what Sally is up to after all this time, especially when it seems so derivative of a far superior final girl.

Image courtesy of Netflix

I’d add as well there’s a real aesthetic problem in this film. The original movie has a “real” quality enhanced by the extra grainy film stock and low-fi aesthetics – the first time one watches The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the viewer is left with a disquited, grimy feeling, almost like watching a real snuff film. This new Massacre takes a visual cue from the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay produced early 2000s vision of the franchise. Leatherface’s weapons take on the godlight gleam of a Decepticon – it’s a lazy, albeit pretty, aesthetic of the post-film, all-digital age: a Texas Chainsaw Massacre should look grimy, not shiny.

The cast is largely blameless – nobody could sell these lines. Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) fairs best of a thankless lot. Once we move beyond the adrenaline rush of the brutal kills, there’s simply nothing of value to grasp onto here. And the film is so tonally muddled that I don’t think it’s worth even for the carnage. A brutal misfire.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is on Netflix worldwide now.