Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Rated R, 1 hour and 21 minutes
Directed by: David Blue Garcia
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Sarah Yarkin, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, Mark Burnham, Olwen Fouéré
In director David Blue Garcia’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Leatherface comes out of a decades-long retirement to compulsively slaughter again and the results are an explicitly bloody reckoning that lacks much of the impact its predecessor had in spades. Instead of the original’s calculated withholding of gore, pioneering camera techniques birthed out of ingenuity and cunning portrayal of an era in tumult, this direct sequel involving a modern milieu of social media influencers, gentrification, commodification and anti-gun violence is a hollow, messy bloodbath that frequently fails to follow through on its own commentary and harvesting of nostalgia, delivering baffling mixed messaging.
Sisters Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin) are traveling in a Tesla to Marlow, Texas with their friends Dante (Jacob Latimore) and his fiancé Ruth (Nell Hudson). Yet packing the most baggage on this road trip is Lila, who bears fresh physical and psychological scars as a victim of a recent high school shooting. In search of better life, free from the torment of the world, they’re hoping to set up their own little utopia untouched by violence by renovating the dirty, deteriorating ghost town, transforming it into a hot spot for influencers and investors.
But the young entrepreneurs must surmount a few stubborn obstacles before a party bus filled with prospective buyers rolls into town. If it isn’t enough to contend with average business start-up stresses like managing paperwork and money transfers, they’re also forced to deal with holdover townsfolk like aggressive auto-body shop owner Richter (Moe Dunford) and elderly invalid Virginia (Alice Krige), who’s yet to vacate her home – an abandoned orphanage – with her hulking son (Mark Burnham). However, after struggling with authorities, Virginia dies, which re-awakens her son’s uncontrollable rage and monstrous alter-ego Leatherface.
Still, the worst is yet to come – not necessarily for the characters, though they too inevitably meet their grisly ends, but for the audience, when the filmmakers struggle to connect the plot’s puzzle pieces along with their sentiments. Screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin, working from a story by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, has a difficult time making much sense, desperately wanting to say something poignant and coherent about trauma, consumerism and modern societal malcontent. They can’t figure out rooting interest, needlessly overcomplicating backstories and motivations.
Logistical and emotional through-lines are poorly executed, from Lila’s PTSD and how it’s later channeled to an attempted, tissue-paper-thin line drawn between OG final girl Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré), who returns seeking vengeance, and this iteration’s final girl. This legacy character’s arc unabashedly resembles Jamie Lee Curtis’ in HALLOWEEN (2018) minus any of its earned pathos. It makes no sense why, when and where characters are alerted to others’ deaths and resurrections. They also don’t behave like real humans reacting to their frightening situations.
Performances are done a disservice. Fisher (EIGHTH GRADE) is robbed of her natural magnetism and has noticeable trouble in her attempts to elevate the material. Latimore, an assured, dynamic performer, is also equally outsized. Krige, who gave a terrific, chilling performance in GRETEL & HANSEL, comes across as goofy. Even Burnham’s moments of reflection and depth, demonstrated through his physicality, are broadly directed.
Even more appalling, the kills are lackluster, far removed from the clever tension builds and atmospheric dread of Hooper’s feature. The ruthless carnival-like murdering of a bus full of trapped, obnoxious, ignoramus influencers should be brighter, campier and sillier, rather than the cringe-worthy spectacle it is. One death borrows a bit from SCREAM 2’s escape through a car window, but gets further twisted into a generic gutting. Another character’s completely unmotivated face-off with Leatherface is gory solely to be gory, going against smart, scary films like PSYCHO and the fairly bloodless original (both of which loosely based their films on serial killer Ed Gein), which understand that it’s scarier to hide the horrific bloodletting.
While some silly stuff is shown, like Leatherface hammering into drywall to get his chainsaw a la John Wick digging out his accoutrement, and the camera movement following the villain’s heavy mallet swing as it destroys the wall a la PANIC ROOM, most of it is devoid of any emotion beyond boredom. Gorgeous shots that accompany the gore, like Leatherface popping up in a dead sunflower field, and the kill in his kitchen where a swinging door reveals certain moments of the brutality, are few and far between, feeling overly polished and synthetically manufactured. And though it doesn’t cannibalize its own origins when given the opportunity, it doesn’t roast them on a barbeque either.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE streams exclusively on Netflix starting on February 18.