Review: Leatherface

5 10

PLOT: Four violent young sociopaths escape from a mental hospital with a nurse as their captive. As a determined sheriff pursues them, one of these lunatics will ultimately be revealed as the cannibalistic serial killer Leatherface.

REVIEW: Thing about LEATHERFACE is, it doesn't really have to be a Leatherface movie. Leatherface, the iconic, chainsaw-waving figure, is almost entirely incidental to most of the events in the film. As structured, it's a tale of escaped mental patients fleeing the law and creating mayhem along the way, and we as an audience have the knowledge that one of them is a young Jed Sawyer, who will grow up to be the titular villain. It's more of a gritty road trip flick in the vein of BADLANDS or, more accurately, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, than a true descendant of Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; aside from the morbid opening and closing passages, it shares little in common with its predecessors, which makes it both a novel entry into the franchise and a discordant one.

I can hardly complain too much, as this brand name has seen better days. Actually, just one better day. I am not much of a fan of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE franchise, save for the 1974 original, which I consider a masterpiece. Since then we're been privy to an eclectic batch of ugly, tiresome movies that have struggled to justify revisiting the hulking man-child known as Leatherface or make his exploits fresh and interesting (yes, I do include Tobe Hooper's goofy 1986 sequel). There's little to discover about Leatherface beyond what you see, so in order to make him novel you have to put him in a story that invigorates the character, and practically all of the TCM remakes and reboots have failed at that. If absolutely nothing else, LEATHERFACE takes a different path than the entries that have come before it, which counts as refreshing as far as these things go.

Leatherface review Stephen Dorff Lili Taylor Finn Jones Sam Strike

That doesn't make it good, of course. Directed by French duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, LEATHERFACE is watchable, to be sure, well made and acted, short enough to not overstay its welcome while boasting a big enough roster of unsavory characters to hold your attention and distract you, somewhat, from the fact you're not really watching a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movie. The big set-piece early on is an effectively-mounted mental hospital riot that launches our story, as four nutjobs make an escape with new nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse) their hostage. One of these people, the movie informs us, is Jed Sawyer, future cannibalistic madman and son of demented Sawyer matriarch Vera (Lili Taylor), who got the riot going in the first place in order to free her son. A sheriff (Stephen Dorff) with a grudge against the Sawyer clan takes off in hot pursuit, with full knowledge of which one of these thugs is young Jed. We're supposed to guess who it is, and I hate to tell you that it's pretty obvious right off the bat via process of elimination.

The antagonists vary in levels of villainy. Two of them are genuinely loathsome: Ike (James Bloor) and Clarice (Jessica Madsen) are kill-happy Mickey and Mallory types who don't mind having sex atop a rotting corpse. Jackson (Sam Strike) is the anti-hero of the lot, sympathetic to the Lizzy's plight and seemingly just as much of a captive as she is, while Bud (Sam Coleman) is a giant, slow-witted fool capable of tremendous violence, the Lenny to Jackson's George. Spending time with this gang isn't exactly pleasant, but neither is hanging out with the sheriff, whose blood lust has turned him into a single-minded angel of death likely to do anything to get his way.

This is all moderately absorbing, if not exactly riveting. What aficionados of the TCM series - or fans of Maury and Baustillo's outstanding debut INSIDE - might object to is the serious lack of scares or disturbing imagery present. Aside from that one grotesque sex scene with a dead body (which seemingly comes out of nowhere), the film is mostly light on impactful imagery. Our villainous leads are nasty customers, sure, but they don't inspire fear in us, and their evil is expressed in pedestrian terms, like shooting or stabbing unarmed victims. The infamous chainsaw makes a cameo at the very beginning of the film and then sits idle until the very end, when more impatient audience members are likely to have already tuned out. Simply put, LEATHERFACE is a letdown in the horror department. That said, the bladed instrument does give us two satisfactorily bloody deaths during the conclusion, when the movie finally goes full TEXAS CHAINSAW.

Leatherface review Stephen Dorff Lili Taylor Finn Jones Sam Strike

The film's production value is decent - it doesn't look cheap, for what that's worth - and the cast is serviceable. Veterans Dorff and Taylor do what they can with predictable characters, while relatively new faces Strike, Bloor, Coleman and Madsen all effectively bring palpable danger to their escaped loons. (Bloor's performance is quite vivid as the most despicable member of the crew.) Grasse is okay as the damsel-in-distress, but sadly the film's screenplay doesn't give her much dimension other than her do-gooder aspirations. She's far from the most memorable female lead the TCM movies have had to offer. (She also loses our sympathy after she blows several opportunities to run away from her predicament.) The movie is well-shot in general, save for the bits when cinematographer Antoine Sanier decides to shake the camera wildly and/or make things too gloomy to see.

At this point it's irrelevant as to how "necessary" any of these TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movies are, but the overwhelming feeling I was left with after LEATHERFACE indeed was, "How is this necessary?" It certainly leaves you severely wanting if you've come expecting to see Leatherface himself spring into action, and the problem with the movie's main reason for being is, the mystery is barely a mystery at all. What's the point of writer Seth M. Sherwood's hook if it's so easy to guess which character is going to turn out to be Jed? It may look and act a bit different from the rest of its ilk, but taken at face value the film is just another franchise rebranding. Another reboot a few years from now and we'll be back to square one.

What LEATHERFACE reminds me most of is one of those graphic novel prequels studios release in order to complement a big new movie; some supplemental information for an already-existing product. I severely doubt any hardcore TEXAS CHAINSSAW MASSACRE fan is going to buy into this particular origin story. As it stands, LEATHERFACE is an adequate sleazy backwoods thriller, little more.

Source: JoBlo.com



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