By: Steph Cannon
Following in the shambling footsteps of the most recent Halloween reboots, Netflix’s latest addition to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE franchise aims to capitalize on the growing trend of bringing back horror’s most iconic killers, and giving them a modern facelift. Leatherface is back, and he hasn’t changed a bit from his blood-splattering, chainsaw-wielding days 50 years ago. These are contemporary days we are living in, though, and even if you’re a sheltered, mindless killer, apparently you need to get with the times.
There’s plenty of fan service and Easter Eggs to keep any horror buff happy, and that’s evident from the first moments narrated by John Larroquette, who voiced the opening sequence in the original 1974 Tobe Hooper film. Tonally, it sets off the ideal sentiment of hope that this will be a nostalgic and faithful iteration. Very quickly, however, we are snapped back to reality and placed squarely in a very obviously 2022 with a group of four Gen Z’ers traveling through the desolate Texas country.
These are clearly not your typical Twenty-somethings, as there are several overt references to their wealth and big-city dwelling stature. Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), along with Melody’s sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), and Dante’s fiancée, Ruth (Nell Hudson) are on their way to the derelict town of Harlow, with big goals to transform the town into a bustling hipster haven.
Unfortunately for them, they discover upon arrival that they aren’t as alone as they anticipated. After stepping into one of the dilapidated, confederate flag-adorned buildings, they’re met with an elderly resident who very pointedly lets it be known she’s staying put. She explains how she ran an orphanage out of the home for decades, finding opportunities to throw in a few racial jabs here and there to remind us of the social climate in the area. There’s only one charge left in her care, and we briefly see a silhouette looming creepily at the top of the staircase to fully hit home just exactly who it is.
An argument between the homeowner and our young entrepreneurs quickly ensues, and the sickly woman collapses in a medical emergency. The town is so small there’s no nearby ambulance, so the sheriffs arrive to take her away, with Ruth inexplicably deciding to go along. This is a confusing plot device whose only purpose is to set in motion an easy opportunity for Leatherface to appear in all his glory and exact his first (of many) kills.
From here, the film follows the very typical formula of its predecessors, by giving us a gory, blood-soaked, brutal game of cat-and-mouse. In perfect timing, a bus full of potential buyers shows up ready to party and celebrate their impending town ownership, providing Leatherface with ample opportunities to slice through as many victims as possible.
In the midst of all of this, the movie’s main marketing point shows up in the form of a much older and more haggard Sally (Olwen Fouere), looking not so subtly like an exact replica of a present-day Laurie Strode. Sally hasn’t recovered from the events that befell her and her friends that fateful Summer in 1974 (nor should she), as she takes several moments to glimpse at an old polaroid of her fallen group. She meets up with Melody and Lila soon after the carnage begins, hellbent on ending Leatherface’s reign of murderous terror for good.
The body count during the second and final acts in particular, is of course comically substantial, again mirroring the style of David Gordon Green’s Halloween renditions. The gore factor is exactly how you’d imagine it to be, and then some. These kills are as brutal and explicit as they come, setting the bar for the most creative ways to shock your audience. All of that is to be expected at this point, though, and anyone taken aback by its overabundance probably hasn’t seen any horror movies at all.
In many ways, though it tries hard to appeal to a younger, more current audience, it brings nothing new to the table. Because this movie is what it is, that’s not necessarily enough to make it unwatchable, or even regarded as a bad depiction. Its handicap comes more in the form of trying too hard to be avant-garde, using terminology and phrases that only anyone under the age of 25 might know. This will inevitably date the film considerably in a matter of a few short years, when trendy buzzwords popular with the Tik Tok generation will be glaringly out of style.
The four main leads do as good of a job with the script as they can, and deliver believable performances that will surely lead to future, more prominent roles. For his part, Mark Burnham gives an intimidating and commanding performance as Leatherface, filling the very large shoes of Gunnar Hansen, emulating his posture and movements with expert precision.
Overall, this newest addition, directed by David Blue Garcia, offers up enough tasty, bloody morsels to give us a good old fashioned, mindless slasher flick. Whether this was the intent of the filmmakers or not, or if they had more ambitious goals to make a movie full of intelligent social commentary, isn’t apparent by the time the final shocking moments roll. It spends the majority of its time trying to get out of its own way, when all we really wanted was to just see four regular twentysomethings run through the Texas heat, chased by a chainsaw-wielding monster. If subsequent sequels do indeed happen, it will be interesting to see if the creators can better balance the need to be stylish with the need to give fans what they really want, or somehow find a more logical compromise.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is streaming on Netflix now.