Leatherface (2017) / by Paul Keely

Leatherface.jpg

Directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Written by Seth M. Sherwood

At least when Rob Zombie remade Halloween, he didn’t just remake Halloween. He took the concept, went bonkers with it, and he made ROB ZOMBIE’S Halloween. He didn’t try to fit it into established continuity, or make it some sort of prequel or origin story to the REST of the Halloween movies. He made an origin story for his OWN Halloween movie, and shot off in a direction that can be best described as delightfully insane.

You’re asking me, “Why is this review of Leatherface talking about Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies?”

Because this movie desperately wishes it were a Rob Zombie movie. The stink of desperation lingers long after the smell of rotting corpses. This is a story of a child from a messed up redneck family, placed into a mental institute, wherein an event triggered in part by actions of the prison orderlies leads to a an escape by the now grown up child. So now that we’ve got the plot of Rob Zombie’s Halloween out of the way, we can shift to The Devil’s Rejects. Wherein now that the escape has taken place, a gritty southern Sheriff driven by a quest for vengeance after the loss of a family member, leads him down a dark path culminating in bloodbath.

This movie wants to be a prequel to the whole franchise (meaning that the new viewing order is Leatherface, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Texas Chainsaw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, etc.) but it doesn’t do anything clever. It doesn’t set out to establish the franchise or characters in a meaningful way, instead choosing the lazy route at every turn.

What else would you expect from the writer of London Has Fallen.

It’s the sort of laziness where, after the lumbering manchild has been shot and passed out, and the two crazy people are busy having sex with a corpse, our “heroine” and male lead decide to… not escape. They’re not even tied down or anything, they just wait. BUT WAIT! Then they do try to escape, during which time the male beats on the crazy guy to give her a chance to run. So she stands there and watches until the crazy lady shows up with her shotgun and they’re captured again. And the next morning she has the audacity to scream “Now’s our chance to escape, we should run!”  

I know what you’re thinking, “She’s secretly part of the Sawyer family and it’s going to be a major plot twist!”

No, she’s just THAT bad a final girl. She doesn’t even fall down and twist her ankle, she’s just stupid.

The problem with lifting story beats wholesale from other (better) films is that without the context of that film, it loses any meaning. In The Devil’s Rejects it was clear that while Wydell was pretty much insane, he was fighting the personification of evil in the Firefly clan. While he was in no way a hero to be idolised, there was a sort of understanding that yeah, his mind and methodology is warped, but so is his world. He is a necessary evil fighting against true evil. He was something that we could identify with. How low would you allow yourself to fall to avenge the ones you loved?

In this one they try to act like the sheriff is crazy evil. And yet, you know, the Sawyer's are basically walking death. So it wants us to hate the Sawyer's because they're evil, and... I don't know, it feels like we're supposes to root for the sheriff because he is fighting evil, but the way it portrays him is basically the same as the Sawyers. So there’s a strong conflicting message, and it’s not handled well enough to be a good one. In defter hands it could have been a stronger character (a waste of Stephen Dorff, a vastly underrated actor). Here, it doesn’t know what it wants.

On a more meta level, it affects the feel of the movie and the reactions to it. When he shoots the crazy mental patient in the head, it should be one of those fist pump moments. He just up and executes her point blank. Done, one down, three to go. The set-up is there as well, showing her partaking in brutal violence against innocent people, and a little necrophilia (because corpse sex is gross and an easy way to establish gross characters). So when she dies, it’s the death of a villain. But because he is ALSO sort of portrayed as a villain, it feels uncertain. Do we cheer? Are we actually supposed to feel sympathy for her? I mean, no, she is a HORRIBLE human being.

And again, I reference The Devil’s Rejects. That film handles moments like this with balanced characters magnificently. You hated the Firefly family because they were evil, but they felt human at times, and showed weaknesses. There were brief moments where you could connect with them. And maybe it made you sympathize with them, because how could a human be so evil, what would have led them to this point? Or maybe it repulsed you, because how could you feel sympathy for something like that? But it made you feel something. When Freebird starts playing, you either cheered as they went down, or sat quietly and thought, maybe in another life they could have found peace.

Here, everyone and everything is awful. It’s not fun, or scary, or effective. It’s nihilistic and boring. This movie takes every easy step. Hate everyone because they are evil. The sheriff seeking revenge? Well now he's holding the innocent victim hostage, so now it's okay for him to die. The crazy couple? Sex everywhere! Necrophilia! Easy gross outs!  No place for feelings here. Corpse sex! The directors are more concerned with splattered bodily fluids and flailing body parts than little things like “character” or “emotion.”

And how can the Sawyers continue to live in this place for as long as they did? They kill innocent people. They kill cops. They kill people they have pre-established agreements with. They kill everyone. Why the hell would anyone deal with them? That's where the major narrative problem comes into play: when the Sawyers were this whisper in rural America, they were a phantom. A nightmare that may or may not exist. But here there are a half dozen of them running around murdering everything left right and center.

There's no mystery there. They're no longer "that creepy house where people don't come back from." They're the "for Christ sake, why does no one just shoot all the Sawyers because they keep murdering literally everyone they come across." There is no world this family could exist in where they just openly massacre people the way they do. Where they just initiate asylum riots. SOMEONE would take issue with that. But it doesn’t have time to stop and think about things like that. It only seeks to twist the original narrative to suit its attempts at crafting an origin story.

And oh that origin story. Remember the classics? How Freddy Krueger’s knives were an implement of the violence in life that condemned him to seek vengeance in death? How Jason obtained his machete through trial and error with other kills, always showing a preference to it no matter how zombified he became? How Michael Myers, a blunt, hollow instrument of death chose a boring old kitchen knife to massacre with? Or how Leatherface always just HAD his chainsaw, a brutal, gnashing set of motorized teeth. The scream of the saw became his voice, an unhinged implement of mayhem and pain to be unleashed on a victim.

Nope, he was given the saw for his birthday.

…but why?

Just cause.

No, really. The victim he’s supposed to kill as a child doesn’t even die by chainsaw, they just crack his skull with a hammer. The saw is just there because this is a Texas Chain Saw Massacre movie and it NEEDS the saw.

"THE MOVIE IS ABOUT A CHAIN SAW HERE IS THE CHAIN SAW ENJOY"

Here’s a crazy idea: In the second act of the movie they hide out in an old trailer where the owner killed himself. Why not find the chainsaw there? A guy living in the woods, he's going to want to cut wood for his firepit. Maybe Leatherface uses it to kill someone in the heat of the moment, a bad guy or cop or something. It gives him that "a ha" moment. Then when his mother tells him to kill the cop, HE picks up the chainsaw. He has emptied himself of his humanity and given himself to violence, by way of the saw. Now when he murders someone with that saw, there's a weight there. He wasn't given a weapon because that's what he needs to use to fulfill the title, he has taken up the chainsaw because its screaming violence suits his inner demons. The Chainsaw is Family. It fits the movie's attempts at themes of family, outsiders, of violence and evil.

Nope, "here's a chainsaw, happy birthday, we are giving it to you specifically to kill someone."

It’s rare I can genuinely say I wasted my time watching a movie. Even garbage like Sharknado 5 I don’t wish I could get a refund of my time back. But this movie is so lazy, so pointless, so insultingly stupid in its execution, that I regret wasting my time with it.

I guess the biggest takeaway from this film is that finally we live in a world where the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie where Matthew McConaughey has a robot leg is now the SECOND worst Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie.