Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
In a time when shaky camerawork and found footage have become the norm in horror, it’s somewhat refreshing to have a competent, straightforward scary movie like John Luessenhop’s Texas Chainsaw. Such praise, however, doesn’t mean that the latest installment in the Leatherface saga is especially great, but the level of thoughtfulness behind the scenes distances it from the bulk of its less accomplished peers in manners unexpected from an otherwise throwaway franchise reboot.
Following a Cliff’s Notes rundown of Leatherface’s beginnings, courtesy of highlights from the original 1974 Massacre, Texas Chainsaw seamlessly picks up with an angry mob torching the murderer’s family home. Searching the charred aftermath for survivors, Gavin Miller (David Born) finds Loretta Sawyer (Dodie Brown) and promptly kicks her to death, though not before snatching a baby from her arms. An ambiguous number of years later, Heather (Alexandra Daddario) receives word that a grandmother she never knew has bequeathed her estate, a revelation that leads to learning that she is the stolen child. Disgusted that her identity has been a lie, Heather heads down to Texas with her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz), pals Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez), and hitchhiker Darryl (Shaun Sipos) to investigate her inheritance.
Once the young folks arrive in tiny Newt, Texas, the story kicks into gear and hits all of the expected genre beats with near-comedic precision. Not quite a year after The Cabin in the Woods so successfully lampooned and quasi-championed these tenets, such textbook fidelity feels irresponsible yet also inevitable when considering the confines of an established series. At their mansion of a destination, essentially a deluxe cabin in the woods, caution is predictably provided at its gates by the estate’s attorney (Richard Riehle), urging Heather to read an explanatory letter from her grandmother. Once inside the house, a brave/foolish soul wanders off to certain death, and thus Leatherface is loosed from his basement lair. The other victims-to-be, oblivious to the danger that lurks below the floor, party away, adhering so closely the drugs-and-hormone-fueled (but nudity-free) reveling Cabin deconstructed that one can almost hear Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford clinking glasses. Sadly, no such meta elements are to be found here, though the reading of Texas Chainsaw as one long diatribe on contemporary youth’s ignorance of hand-written letters and said ignorance’s pitfalls provides a speck of unintentional socially-critical humor.
Throughout these worn rituals, Luessenhop employs surprisingly strong shot composition and editing to move the story forward at a smooth pace. His camera locked in on barely-legal hips, derrières, and mammary glands, he sexes up the foreshadowing, ramping up the already high energy and effectively setting the stage for the horrors to come. When the monster does strike, it’s executed with old-school jump-scare success, though Leatherface’s subsequent mutilation of bodies is far less effective than the build up of him leaping out and, if necessary, chasing down targets with his lumbering gait. Thanks to torture porn, machinery to flesh has been done nearly as much as Texas Chainsaw’s banal plot. With sub-par special effects at hand to execute the splatter, the film welcomely and somewhat regularly turns to the simpler spooks of anticipation, and though such a choice doesn’t necessarily seem planned, the overall product is all the better for it.
Even with these classical strengths, the film is dragged down by horrendous dialogue, delivered with utmost cluelessness by its bumbling cast. Terror may be the bottom line, but in the absence of blood and screams, Texas Chainsaw too often falls into a narrative and dramatic funk, one that occasional flashes of transcendence are ultimately unable to salvage. For a few good scares, one could do a lot worse, though it goes without saying that far better options are available.
Rated R for strong grisly violence and language throughout.
Texas Chainsaw is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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