Film Review: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

Horror masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has spawned some of the most idiosyncratic sequels, remakes, and prequels in the history of the genre. With rare (and hotly debated) exceptions, filmmakers have struggled to come close to what makes the original so enduring and effective. The newest entry in the franchise, which similarly suffers from more idiosyncratic naming conventions than any other genre franchise, attempts to move the story of Leatherface out of the past and squarely into 2022. Instead, Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre creates a cruel, disjointed, and occasionally insulting story that leaves you wondering who, exactly, the intended audience is.

There’s a certain amount of hand-waving required to enjoy any film in this franchise after the original, given the notoriously convoluted and contradictory lore built up over the years. But director David Blue Garcia and writer Chris Thomas Devlin’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre strains even the most generous horror fan’s credulity. The film is a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, and it posits that Leatherface (Mark Burnham) has been living in an orphanage since the events of the original film. His murderous impulses have been kept at bay by the woman running the orphanage, Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige). Those impulses come roaring back when Mrs. Mc dies of a heart attack brought on by the stress of Austin gentrifiers kicking her out of her house so that they can turn the ghost town of Harlow, Texas, into a haven for wealthy Gen Z investors who are sick and tired of city life.

If you need a moment to re-read that last sentence, I completely understand. Take your time.

A still from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Four young people stand on a dusty street and look ahead.

One of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s most puzzling decisions (but not its most infuriating — that will come later) is its positioning of an entire generation of people as the villain in a movie about a man who murders people with a chainsaw. There’s not a single character the viewer can root for other than the old guy with the mask made of human skin. While there’s certainly precedent for Leatherface being a sympathetic character, he seems more exasperated than anything that he has to break out his chainsaw once more, and the viewer shares in his impatience.

Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) badger Leatherface’s surrogate mother to death, demanding to see the deed to her house when they trespass on property they never bothered to confirm they owned. The party bus full of investors, who arrive just as Mrs. Mc is being taken to the hospital, are entitled and oblivious, informing Leatherface that he’ll be “canceled” if he tries anything when he stomps onto their bus wearing a bloody apron and carrying his beloved chainsaw. It’s a line intended to be humorous, but the ill-advised swipe at “cancel culture” lands with a thud. Humor is a tricky thing to pull off in this universe, but it’s still disappointing to see such a lackluster attempt at the perverse comedy of the first two films.

Continuing its attempt to speak to Gen Z horror fans, the film introduces a school shooting subplot. Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) is a survivor of the fictional Stonebrook High massacre, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes a baffling turn toward the “Guns are…good, actually?” argument when Lila must pick up a gun to protect herself and her sister. Even more baffling is the film’s decision to bring back Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré in this version) as a Texas Ranger who has spent decades hunting Leatherface, only to waste her character in the most insulting way possible. The film pretends to interrogate trauma and PTSD through Lila and Sally’s characters, but it does so in such a facile way that it feels like a mockery of those subjects and a mockery of the original film. 

A still from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Leatherface stands in a field of sunflowers with his back to the camera, holding up a skin mask in front of his face.

Due presumably to the constraints of filming on a small lot in Bulgaria, the town of Harlow consists of one small street where, puzzlingly, the orphanage sits just across from the movie theatre. The majority of the film’s action takes place in these two buildings and the party bus, and there’s a distinct lack of tension as people run back and forth from one location to another. There is no sense of menace; just an old man with a rusty chainsaw hacking his way through unpleasant people who have invaded his home. There’s little joy or macabre satisfaction to be found in Leatherface’s revenge, either. The kills and set pieces often feel perfunctory; Leatherface himself seems exhausted at times, only going through the motions of slicing people up out of a sense of duty.

Inert and uninspired, Texas Chainsaw Massacre leaves the viewer asking who this movie was made for. The film takes aim at younger horror viewers with its lazy Gen Z jokes, and its cruel treatment of Sally seems designed to alienate fans of the original film. The gore isn’t interesting enough to satisfy people just looking for bloody fun. While every horror movie will always have its defenders, the answer to the question, “Who is this movie for?” seems to lie in the hollow storefronts of its setting: just like Harlow itself, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an empty shell with nothing behind the mask.

One comment

  1. Agreed. A rushed mish-mash mess. And why bring back Sally, as a supposed bad-ass Texas Ranger now, only to have her only wound Leatherface and then die in a pile of trash?

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