It’s evident that the makers of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” saw David Gordon Green’s 2018 revival of “Halloween” and felt they could replicate Leatherface’s comeback. Once again, there is a sequel that bypasses all prior films and remakes except the first, and it is intended to focus on the narrative of a survivor. In this scenario, it’s Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, who replaces Marilyn Burns, who died in 2014), the lone survivor of Tobe Hooper’s earth-shattering original. She’s been searching for the beast responsible for her friends’ deaths for years, and the Netflix Original pits them against each other. Sorta. Only just. Everything in David Blue Garcia’s film is “sorta just barely” there (other than the gore, which is impressive). It’s one of those films that has certainly gone through the wringer in terms of production—there have been reports of a new directorial team and terrible test screenings—but it feels doomed from the start. It’s a stunning flop, a film that fundamentally fails at virtually everything it attempts. Leatherface is deserving of better.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” like it or not, is another cautionary story about gentrification. (I’m not joking.) Melody (Sarah Yarkin), her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), and their friend Dante (Jacob Latimore) have traveled to Harlow, Texas, to restore the little town. They’re even bringing a bus full of influencers to check out the venue. (On the side of the bus, it might as well scream “Chainsaw Victims.”) When they arrive, they are met with an early dispute with a homeowner (Alice Krige), who insists on staying. She turns out to be the Norma Bates of this situation, and when she is evicted, her son Leatherface (Mark Burnham) goes on a rampage.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” begins promisingly. Casting Leatherface as a bogeyman in Texas’ heartland, a person that generates not just dread but also a weird fan base who buys corkscrews with chainsaws on them is a great notion… that fails miserably. “TCM” is continuously playing this vexing game of bringing something up and then virtually refusing to do anything with it. For example, Lila is a survivor of a school massacre, yet this feels opportunistic rather than instructive. The concept of city dwellers who have no idea what awaits them when they leave the protection of their house is frequent in horror and was largely established by Hooper’s picture, but this one adds nothing new to the mix. Then, when it begins to toy with social media in one morbidly humorous moment, it discards that concept as well. Everything is superficial in a picture that spans less than 80 minutes without credits but feels twice as long.
That lack of narrative depth might be OK if “TCM” worked as a horror film. It isn’t. The gore is plenty, but the violence is staged and executed in an unimaginative manner. There is no suspense, no tension, and no characters to care about. The difficulty, I believe, is that the original picture is so compelling in its simplicity—a portrayal of regular people thrown into Hell—that filmmakers afterward have assumed that replicating that simple template is straightforward. It isn’t.
Imbuing such a simple idea with profound, unremitting fear necessitates a certain level of innate skill, which Hooper possessed. Most of his followers are not as gifted as he is. Garcia and his colleagues, on the other hand, aren’t truly aiming for that austere simplicity, continuously cluttering their environment with half-baked ideas. Worst of all, Sally’s journey becomes a half-assed replica of Green’s “Halloween” movie’s Laurie Strode retribution narrative. That film also abandoned years of sequels to return a series to its beginnings. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” does the same thing but gets completely lost on the way home.