January 15, 2018

Movie Review: Leatherface (2017)

Is there a movie series with as convoluted a timeline as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I am not sure there is. You have the original film, two sequels that are not directly connected to the original, a fourth that is just sort of there, a remake, a prequel to the remake, a direct sequel to the original, and now this, a supposed prequel to the original. For the most part, it is probably better not to think of any supposed connection between them, especially when it comes to this movie. Coming into my viewing, I had heard everything from it being pretty good to avoid it like the plague. Now, clearly being me, I was no going to pass this movie up. The only question that really remained was going to be what my reaction was.

Leatherface (not to be confused with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III from 1990) Was directed by the French directing duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. I remember hearing that they were signed on to direct and I was immediately interested. You see, they were behind the wild and bloody horror film Inside (À l'intérieur), which I loved, as well as Livid, of which I have heard good things. On the writer side is Seth M. Sherwood, with his feature length debut (unless you count his uncredited work on London has Fallen). The resulting film is quite good, to me. Although I question it’s place in the Chainsaw canon. I probably won’t look at this as canon. It probably should have had a bit more added to it and be given a different. Frankly I like it, but not as a Chainsaw movie.

Obviously, this movie takes place prior to the events of the original film. We meet the Sawyer clan, and they were never much of a likable bunch and they are found torturing a guy that they accused of stealing their pigs. It is a scene clearly meant to be reminiscent of the infamous dinner scene in the original, but it doesn’t quite have the same punch. What it does do, is introduce us to young Jed, he doesn’t seem to be like the rest and is hesitant to join in their killing of the alleged thief.

The scene shifts to the Sawyer kids luring a teen couple out to a shed where they kill the girl. It turns out that the girl is sheriff’s (Stephen Dorff), and as expected he is none too pleased with this He sets about having all of Mama Sawyer’s (Lili Taylor) kids taken away and locked up in a some sort of mental asylum for the younger set. We skip ahead some years and Jed and a few other inmates escape during a riot. This turns the movie into a road movie as the now teens are on the run trying to avoid the cops, led by the sheriff ho locked them away in the first place.

Leatherface is a good movie, it just isn’t a good Chainsaw movie. There is suitable intensity, some blood and a feeling inevitability about it all. I felt bad for Jed, as it seemed like the whole exercise was set up to rob him of his innocence and send him down the dark path that rest of the Sawyers went down. It seems like no matter how hard he tried not to participate or allow himself to be coerced, there was no avoiding some of the things that were happening. In the end, his fate was sealed his anger cemented, leading to this version of Leatherface.

I liked this movie. I liked how we followed this kid from a bad family, trying not to be sucked in by it, eventually get taken. The loss of innocence and how his anger was fed and encouraged and the good side squashed and forced into hiding. Now, for as good as it is about these characters, what doesn’t work is the Chainsaw element. It almost felt like it was wedged into the Chainsaw world as a shorthand for the bad influence. So, instead of having to introduce the evil family, we understand it as a bad family because we know the Sawyer clan is bad. There is also the fact that I always looked at Leatherface as a somewhat pitiable and manipulated bad guy. I don’t feel that way here, At all.

So it is really strange and conflicted to both like and not like the movie. I feel the conflict would have disappeared if it were not wedged into a franchise. It is in the franchise where the problems lie. Make it its own thing and there are not nearly as many problems. I have no problem recommending Leatherface, just don’t watch it as a Chainsaw film, that only leads to disappointment.


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