'Texas Chainsaw Massacre': Leatherface Returns for a Disappointing Legasequel
Of all the iconic horror franchises, few have been as prolific as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. At the time of writing, we are only two years away the 50th anniversary of the original film. Between now and then, the franchise has had 9 entries, which consist of remakes, prequels, and sequels. It's akin to the Halloween franchise's timeline, in that there are several points where the films diverge from each other to create different timelines within the series. There have been many attempts to revive the Texas Chainsaw franchise, with the last big push occurring the 2010s when Millennium Films released Texas Chainsaw 3D, a direct sequel to the original, and a prequel entitled Leatherface. There were big plans to continue this timeline, but due to Millennium losing the rights in the midst of Leatherface's troubled release, these never came to be. But when Legendary Pictures acquired the rights to the franchise, it was clear that we would be seeing more Texas Chainsaw related projects in the near future.
This brings us to their first attempt, which is simply titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is a direct sequel that picks up almost 50 years after the events of the original film from 1974. Similar to the first one, we see a group of young people traveling through rural Texas, where they eventually encounter the evil Leatherface, a cannibalistic murderer who starts to pick them off one by one. In some ways, the original movie laid down some of the groundwork for what would become the template for the slasher film. While I would say the original feels more like an exploitation film, it's very clear that it inspired a number of slashers that came after it, and would later fall more into the slasher genre with its later installments. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it's clear that the franchise tries to morph to fit with current trends in horror, it doesn't seem like they have been able to recapture that lightning in a bottle feeling of the first film. As a result, I tried to keep my expectations low going into this latest installment. Despite this, there was a small part of me that was hoping that this would be more daring and take some risks. At the very least, I was hoping that this would be a mindless, yet fun, watch. Unfortunately, Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn't either of these, and instead makes a case for why the franchise should be put to rest.
One of the latest trends in horror has been the legasequel, which usually sees old characters returning in one way or another, and references previous entries of the franchise. The latest Halloween films are prime examples of this, as well as the newest Scream film, which satirizes this very phenomenon. With this becoming more and more popular, it was only a matter of time before the Texas Chainsaw franchise got the legasequel treatment. However, there aren't as many connections to the original film as one might think. Obviously, it has the same setting and we see the returns of Leatherface, as well as Sally Hardesty, the lone survivor of the original film. Beyond that, there's not all that much that connects it to the original. It takes a modern spin on the 1974 film, as it takes place in the present, and incorporates themes of gentrification and influencer culture throughout the film. I do think that the gentrification angle could have been stronger if it was fleshed out more, but it doesn't quite hit as hard as it wants to. The commentary it attempts to make on influencers and social media, on the other hand, is so hamfisted and it comes across like the screenwriter is pandering to younger viewers in certain ways. It's as if it's wanting to entice younger viewers, but ultimately feels like the bit from 30 Rock where Steve Buscemi says "How do you do, fellow kids?" There's easily a way that the filmmakers could have used technology and social media to their advantage, but this is just not it.
I also felt that the characters, both old and new were so paper-thin that there was nothing for me to connect with. They all feel like rough outlines of people, and are painfully underdeveloped. Even Leatherface feels like a generic horror villain here, as any sense of his character feels stripped away. As for the new characters, I could barely tell you anything about them and I literally just finished watching the movie. They are forgettable, and add so little to the film. It's not like the actors are miscast or are completely phoning it in though, as some of the actors have proven themselves in other films. Elsie Fisher makes a decent effort here, but having seen her excellent performance in 2018's Eighth Grade, it makes me sad that she isn't taking on better projects. Jacob Latimore is a pretty good actor as well, but he is squandered here to say the least. I even felt that relative newcomer Sarah Yarkin wasn't half-bad here, but sadly, she's not given the best material to work with. It's just a shame that the film wastes a decent cast on such a sub-par script, as they simply can't save the film, despite their best efforts.
I feel that critiquing a script for a Texas Chainsaw film is almost pointless, as most people, myself included, are aware that the franchise largely follows the formula that most slasher films do. This is no exception, which isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it knows what it is and doesn't stray too far from it. On the other, it just feels lazy and uninspired that you can't help but wish that it was a bit more inventive. The film's attempts to modernize itself feel so hacky and left me rolling my eyes. The film also uses a horrific tragedy to explain why a character is the way they are, and it comes off as tasteless and off-putting. I won't say what it is since it would be a spoiler, but you'll know what it is when you see it.
I'm sure that this film was intended to honor the franchise's legacy, but it feels strangely disrespectful to it. Perhaps it's because the series has been going on for so long that no one is really sure what it even is at this point, but it's so strange to look at this as a direct sequel when it feels a few degrees removed from it. It feels so watered down and frankly is kind of boring. It may only be 81 minutes, but it feels longer at times. While the original felt more methodical and assured, this feels like it's trying to be three different things at once, and it fails at being most of them. It does have some decent kills, but as a whole, the film just feels slapped together and messy. It's very possible that people who are more into the franchise than I am will be more into the film than I was, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone can enjoy this. For me, as well as others, the bar forTexas Chainsaw Massacre was already pretty low. But somehow, it managed to be even worse than I was expecting, and is an extremely weak entry in the franchise. It may have some memorable kills, but it feels so predictable and bland beyond that, and is easily one of the worst legasequels to come out as of late. It's clear that this was meant to breathe new life into the franchise, but based on the quality of this film, it might be finally time to put it to rest.