You know, I’m always here for a new classic horror franchise movie. Even with the run of bad Halloweens we’ve been having, there’s something about settling in to some classic horror slashery that always makes me feel like I’m coming home. So I can say I was genuinely looking forward to 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot: gentrification versus Leatherface, with the Fede Alvarez stamp of semi-approval. How wrong could it go?
Fundamentally, the issue with Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it wants to do too much, and yet, manages to land basically nothing at all.
There’s the much-touted influencers-versus-Leatherface storyline, as millenials livestream their own dismemberment on their phones and threaten to get Leatherface cancelled (no, but actually), which seems to shoot for a tone similar to the extremely fun Shook, but winds up instead this buzzword-spouting mess with nothing genuine to say beyond “what if phones, but too much?”. Making fun of influencers and the social media generation is pretty much chainsawing fish in a barrel at this point, and can’t even get that right, instead using the most cursed Instagram-version of the Vengabus as a useful containment centre for the majority of the victims of Leatherface’s new rampage.
And then you’ve got Lila (Elsie Fisher), ostensibly the lead, an insufferably irritating character barely given a chance by a sidelined plot that deserved more weight: Lila was the victim of a school shooting, which ostensibly bears a lot of influence on her actions in TCM, but actually, functionally, just means that she stares off into space with the corners of her mouth downturned like a droopy ascot hat anytime something giblety happens. I actually think that the school shooting background could be a relatively interesting one if executed correctly, but this – this half-arsed, Big Issues, Take Us Seriously stuff – feels more exploitative than it does investigative. Elsie Fisher, I’m told, is better than this as an actress, but frankly, with a character this thin, she couldn’t be worse. And the attempt to balance “wahoo, look at these goofy influencers” with “gun control is a real issue that affects American kids and we should talk about that” is so violently and obviously incongruent that it’s impossible to get anything out of either plot.
And then you’ve got the OG final girl of this franchise, Sally Hardesty, back for revenge on Leatherface. Olwen Fouéré takes over the role in traditional re-quel styling, but she gets the Dick Halloran edit to an almost comical degree, dramatically riding into town to take on her one-time tormentor only to get sliced up the middle within about ninety seconds. It’s a bloody shame (literally) that the movie wastes Sally and Fouéré as badly as this; the little screentime she has is genuinely great, with grit and gall and a feeling of actual history, but instead of enhancing the movie, it just serves as a reminder of how fucking dreadful Lila is at taking over this role. Again, there’s the whisper of an interesting plot here – both Sally and Lila survived a traumatic massacre, and drawing those parallels might have made for something more engaging – but the film does little to explore that, unless you count “eye contact” as character development.
The rest of the cast deliver varying levels of red-shirt realness: Sarah Yarkin is probably the best, as Lila’s sister, but all the time she was on-screen I was thinking about how great she is in Happy Death Day 2U and how much I wished I was watching that movie instead. Moe Dunford, king of my shite patter from the Vikings recaps a few years ago, barely even gets a chance to Moe Begunford in his redneck mechanic role, even if he gets a good thirty seconds to show off that TV fight training before he buys it.
But, of course, there is one thing here that stands out above everything else, and that’s Leatherface himself. I wrote earlier this week about why I find Leatherface as a villain so compelling, and let me tell you: it’s not because of fucking anything that this film does with him. Leatherface as a character stands out in amongst the Jasons and the Michaels because he is more than just a lumbering great invulnerable embodiment of evil: he’s a person. That first film is basically just him trying his best to protect his family against what he sees as intruders – he’s scared, his motivations understandable, even if his actions aren’t. Leatherface has depth, dammit.
Well, he did. Texas Chainsaw Massacre ostensibly sets up some kind of motivation for Leatherface here: the death of his mother, as caused by the incoming influencers, is what sets him off. But really, this is just a re-adjusting of the iconic and brilliant villain to fit a mold that he specifically and famously broke. He’s an unstoppable and rampaging force of evil, right down to that Michael Myers-esque rise from the grave to make one last shock kill before the credits, with special combo moves with his chainsaw when you hit the right sequence of buttons once the movie has paid lip service to the why. I’m not saying I wanted him to look through the eye-holes of his dead mother’s face and deliver a Marriage Story monologue or anything, but a little nuance wouldn’t have gone amiss, you know? Even though this movie is utterly gory and blood-soaked, it also feels like the most neutered and least engaging version of this character, one that’s more interested in how far he can fling a chainsaw rather than why he feels the need to do that in the first place. Leatherface, more than any other major franchise villain, is a person, but here, he’s just another great big unkillable fella holding a sharp object and that’s a damn shame.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre misses the mark from me on about every possible level it could. It’s neither a good or interesting horror movie in its own right, or a respectable addition to the existing TCM franchise. There’s so much going on here that nothing gets the chance to breathe, not least the once-brilliant Leatherface. I know that we’re going to be in that self-driving car to a sequel soon enough, but if this is the level of quality we can expect – you can keep it.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Polygon)