Leatherface is a 2017 horror film about a teenage killer who escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell.
It’s a little hard to believe that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is as old and populated as it is. There are no less than seven films in the series now, seven, and they’ve been mostly poor rehashes of the first, which is truly one of the most terrifying films ever made, a masterpiece of horror and suspense that even today remains just as impactful. Prequels and sequels have all deteriorated away from the first’s influential themes into mindless nihilistic nonsense with little more than excuse to display graphic butchery on screen. Now comes Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury‘s latest entry, number eight, Leatherface, and while it has a certain style that sometimes chills, is much like the others, just another run of nothing we’ve not seen before.
After a brief cringeworthy introduction, we meet Betty (Lorina Kamburova), a young woman riding in the passenger seat of her boyfriend’s truck when they nearly miss something odd in the road. Turns out it’s a trap that successfully lures the girl onto the nearby isolated farm where she meets her end at the hands of maniacal pig farmers led by Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), whose youngest Jed is a little uncomfortable with the family murder business. Seems the girl though is daughter to local Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff), who can’t quite connect the dots but is able to put Jed into an asylum where a full decade later, Verna finally comes to collect her boy, all grown up (Sam Strike), staging a breakout with the rest of her deranged cronies, Bud (Sam Coleman), Ike (James Bloor), Clarice (Jessica Madsen) and Jed’s cute nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse). Now on the run, with Hartman close on their tails, they look to set up shop once again.
Leatherface is meant to be a sort of rekindling as it were, introducing a new monster in the series, with young Jed a curious study, he being initially an unwilling participant in the mayhem. This gives the movie its only real bit of weight, offering a character with a familial bond to violence who is conflicted by its very presence. Opening with what amounts to be the most disturbing moment of the movie, and one that pays the largest homage to the original, it establishes a powerful sense of menace, though abandons most of it as the movie progresses, even as we witness some decided acts of savagery and depravity, including sex with a corpse. This keeps them on the run, with Jed and Lizzy more often like captives than participants, opening it up a bit, and the mid-1970s look and feel lend it a kind of gritty authenticity, though it never truly becomes what a fan of the series is hoping for until late in the third act.
Painted in thick sepia tones, the movie is a muddied looking chase film that for some bits works, with both Dorf and Taylor good as parents on opposite sides of madness. We’re meant to play a kind of guessing game as to who Leatherface actually is, right up to the end, but few will be all that invested by it when it comes. It might be unfair to compare Tobe Hooper‘s monumentally challenging original to what’s been served up since, but it’s telling how great the chasm is between then and now. Most contemporary horror films are empty stages populated with beautiful people in highly choreographed moments that have no resonance, far from the grounded, messy urgency of the trailblazers. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an unnerving, horrifying social commentary, Leatherface is just one more cog in the machine with little to say.
Director(s): Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Actor(s): Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike