Cinema Review: Leatherface | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, December 12th, 2019  

Leatherface

Studio: Lionsgate
Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

Oct 20, 2017 Web Exclusive
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If you ever watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wondered just how someone could possibly turn out like Leatherface, well, here’s your answer. But, why would you?

This brand of origin story is terribly ill-conceived. It reeks of desperation when there’s no more forward progress to be made in a franchise, so the only logical choice is to recede into the past to try to mine any possible bankability that remains.

Before the movie even begins, Leatherface is at a disadvantage. It’s not impossible for this approach to work – and some re-imaginings improve upon the original, so this isn’t a purely anti-sequel or remake take – but, unfortunately, it doesn’t. The movie opens on a twisted dinner party where a young child is urged to wield a chainsaw to punish the family’s unwanted guest. He’s conflicted, though, and rejects the murderous chants from his relatives. This kid will one day embrace the chainsaw and insanity, but we’re nowhere close to that yet.

Due to the family’s indiscretions at a later date, the police, led by Texas Ranger Hartman (Stephen Dorff), descend upon the compound to discover a fresh murder. It happens to be Hartman’s daughter. While they can’t prove foul play, the authorities do manage to have the children removed, and sent to an asylum, and away from Verna (Lili Taylor), the family matriarch. There are vague references to prior deaths on the family farm, but this was the breaking point.

Naturally, the asylum - where we cut to 10 years later – is dank and full of abusive orderlies and a cruel warden who oversees it all. It’s revealed here that the children are given new names when they are admitted to supposedly prevent their pasts from encroaching on their futures. Here, it seems to be put in play to raise questions about who the future Leatherface is. A group of patients escape during a riot, and there seems to be some attempt at ambiguity about his identity, though it’s fairly obvious who it is. This mostly plays as clumsy storytelling. The patients hit the road, raising hell and leaving a trail of bodies with the lead pair like a demented Bonnie and Clyde without the charm.

Leatherface is also drowned in this brown and yellow hue ripped straight from the motif of the posters around the previous movies in the franchise. The darkened, muted visuals don’t add a sense of dread or atmosphere, they dull it. So, we’re left with a story that fails to justify the exploration of one of horror’s most iconic villains’ psyche and an ugly, bland look. Even the kills are underwhelming (other than one near the end that delivers the grotesque goods).

It fails, as these films often do, because it doesn’t accentuate the elements that made the original so good. Sequels and franchises are under pressure to up the ante with each chapter, and it’s often to diminishing returns. The original Texas Chainsaw wasn’t successful because of the gore and it wasn’t good because it gave a glimpse into the minds of the family. In fact, not knowing heightened the tension. Instead of trying to answer the question of what made Leatherface a thing, filmmakers tackling a well-known property need to better remember why the original was good to begin with and harness that tone and feeling.

In the right hands, looking into the mind of a killer and the psychological trauma suffered in childhood combined with an analysis on upbringing could be interesting. It could consider both sides of the nature vs. nurture coin, but Leatherface doesn’t navigate those waters with any depth. Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo gloss over the character elements and wind up with a generic, forgettable movie.

Obviously, the lesson that will be gleaned from all this will be an origin story of Jaws.

Author rating: 1/10

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