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Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Directed by David Blue Garcia
Written by Chris Thomas Devlin
Starring Mark Burnham, Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher and Olwen Fouéré
Classification R; 93 minutes
Streaming on Netflix starting Feb. 18
For those easily disappointed, here’s something for you. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is what it says it is. You have your Texas, your chainsaw, your massacre. A sunflower field is covered in blood. Creaking boards are stepped upon. Terrorized young people lose their heads. What else could one want or expect?
Set in a dusty ghost town, this unsettling film has ghosts for miles. Not spirits in the apparitional sense, these are echoes of the past. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the excellently gnarly sequel to 1974′s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a genre classic that spawned a sprawling franchise of violent video games and grisly film adaptations. The empire centres on a spree killer dubbed Leatherface who uses a chainsaw for things other than mundane woodcutting tasks.
David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre acknowledges the Tobe Hooper-directed original by bringing back John Larroquette to narrate the opening of the film, as he did in 1974. A sepia-toned news brief is meant to heighten the fright by establishing a true-crime conceit.
Beyond the Larroquette-voiced narrator and the maniac Leatherface, the other character brought back is Sally Hardesty, the lone survivor of the first massacre. She’s played by Olwen Fouéré now – a hardboiled cowgirl hellbent on avenging the slaughter of her friends all those decades ago. (Think Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in last year’s Halloween Kills, but with a southern drawl.) Sally keeps a snapshot of the old gang on her to keep the bloodlust alive.
The screenplay here is based on a story developed by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, the creative team behind 2013′s Evil Dead and 2016′s Don’t Breathe. It begins with carload of young influencers arriving in the deserted Texas village of Harlow. They’re idealists, with a notion of revitalizing the ghost town. The mouthpiece of the group is Dante. Fans of 14th-century Italian poetry will be hip to the allusion.
Tension spikes almost immediately. There’s a dispute with an old woman over the ownership of a house. She lives there with her large adult son, Leatherface – a psycho, in the parlance of Hitchcock. Distressed over her possible eviction, the woman succumbs to a fatal heart attack.
As any loving, mentally unstable offspring would do, Leatherface (played by Mark Burnham) cuts off the skin of his mother’s head and wears it like a shawl. After killing the people with him in the ambulance, he goes home and applies his mother’s makeup – talk about putting on one’s face. Then he looks for a handheld, gas-powered device to fulfill the film’s title.
Despite its gallons of O negative, Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t entirely senseless. The Leatherface character was apparently inspired by real-life murderer Ed Gein, who also wore masks made of human skin. I suppose it is an allegory of some kind.
The film’s protagonists are Melody, a young entrepreneur (played Sarah Yarkin), and her teenaged sister Lila (Elsie Fisher). A survivor of a gun-shooting mass murder at a school, Lila, like the haunted Sally, is a traumatized female victim of extreme toxic masculinity.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre mostly stays in its gory lane – it’s not a mainstream-crossover candidate in the vein of Jordan Peele’s high-class horror films Get Out and Us. Still, it’s a slash above the norm. The pacing is perfect – you don’t need a chainsaw to cut the tension, any knife (or corkscrew, as it turns out) will do.
The howling metallic soundscape by Montreal-based musician Colin Stetson is superb. And while the film thankfully doesn’t resort to jokey moments meant for the Clearasil set, a bus scene with a bunch of cellphone photographers is hilarious and slick in its commentary.
In a franchise rife with missteps, this sequel does not dishonour its source. Hats off (and heads off) to the film’s creators.
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