Film Review – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The appeal of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – and part of the reason it has had such a lasting legacy – was in how it embraced its luridness. With its grainy film stock, shocking violence, and guerilla-style approach, the film’s sole purpose was to disturb and provoke. But it was made with such craftsmanship by Tobe Hooper and his team that we can’t deny its qualities. There are images and sequences that have been burned into our memory – the biggest of which is Leatherface, the skin-wearing, chainsaw-wielding killer. Of all the notable movie monsters, Leatherface is perhaps the most brazen. One look at the guy and you quickly realize what he’s all about.
The first film captured lightening in a bottle with its mayhem, so much so that none of the sequels, remakes, or spin-offs have been able to replicate it. The same goes for this latest attempt, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). Following in the footsteps of the recent Halloween (2018) entries, this is a legacy sequel that acts as a continuation of the original while ignoring everything else that came after. Directed by David Blue Garcia and written by Chris Thomas Devlin (with Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues getting story credits), we’re reintroduced to a much older Leatherface (Mark Burnham) who has reawakened to once again wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims. The question then becomes: Does this installment bring anything new to the table? The answer is: Not really.
Melody (Sarah Yarkin), Lila (Elsie Fisher), Dante (Jacob Latimore), and Ruth (Nell Hudson) are a group of young social media influencers who have – somehow – secured ownership of the small dusty town of Harlow, Texas. They intend to auction off each of the buildings to the highest bidder, in hopes of revitalizing the area and creating a community of their own. This does not come across well for many of Harlow’s existing residents, including gruff mechanic Richter (Moe Dunford). Little does the group know that Leatherface is also one of the town’s displaced members. What he does in retaliation is, well, you know.
That is a convoluted set of circumstances just to get people out to this location and be picked off one by one. Whatever happened to friends going out on a road trip and running out of gas? Instead, we see our killer subjected to the ways of the Millennial Generation. Seeing someone point a smartphone at Leatherface and threaten to “cancel” him for any wrongdoing is hilariously absurd and silly. The way in which the group take ownership of the town creates a weird dynamic. They invite investors over for a cookout while kicking out residents that refuse to leave. Not exactly the most promising way to rebuild a town. At a certain point we start rethinking whom we should be rooting for in the first place.
Even more egregious is how the writing and direction try to shoehorn deeper social issues in what is essentially an exploitation story. We learn of a past trauma involving gun violence and how that experience informs some of the character choices. This element is distasteful and more than a bit insensitive for those that have lived through real tragedy. It creates a tonal imbalance that brings the narrative down to a serious level as opposed to a cartoonish, grand guignol extreme. How are we supposed to take something as pressing as gun violence (involving young people) and place it in a narrative where characters are split in half with a chainsaw or whose heads get bashed in with a mallet?
If onscreen violence is the only thing that you’re looking for, then you will get more than your fair share here. Advertisements promise a blood bath, and that is exactly what is delivered. There are some brutal beatings, stabbings, and gunshots all throughout, with Ricardo Diaz’s cinematography capturing every gruesome detail. One sequence has characters getting trapped in a bus with Leatherface blocking the door. The resulting chaos gives the saying “Like shooting fish in a barrel” a whole new meaning. It’s funny how background characters will suddenly change into a mindless, screaming hoard once they encounter Leatherface. You’d think that people who are smart enough to gain a fortune from social media and purchase an entire town would be able to figure out how to overwhelm a single person. But like many forgettable horror movies, logic and common sense aren’t always a requirement.
I didn’t really get into the story because there isn’t much of one. Once Leatherface springs into action, kill scenes unfold in repeating fashion. The action is mostly centered on one singular street which makes the entire production feel small and confined. The big selling point is the return of the character Sally Hardesty, the lone survivor of the first film. Here, Sally is played by Olwen Fouéré (the original actor, Marilyn Burns, passed away in 2014). I was surprised to learn that this is only Sally’s second appearance in the series. Other long running franchises feature a central protagonist to help carry its popularity. Like Jamie Lee Curtis’ older version of Laurie Strode, Sally has become closed off, hardened, and traumatized by what happened to her. Her life has become filled with unresolved anger. When she learns that Leatherface has come back, she packs up her shotgun and goes hunting.
The confrontation between Sally and Leatherface had a lot of potential, but sadly that opportunity was missed. The thin plotting did not give enough time to build up the showdown. That ends up being the big issue with Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a whole. It provides the bloodshed and gore some horror fans may want, but in terms of deepening the story and bringing it to new and interesting places, it comes up short. This may appeal to completionists wanting their Leatherface fix, but I don’t know if it’s going to win over any newcomers.