The saw is family, and the origin of that family is given a feature length film depiction in ‘Leatherface’. Set prior to the events in the 1974 classic ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, the film takes place in the endless out-backs of Texas during the early days of the infamous Sawyer family. The youngest child, Jed, is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the vengeful sheriff’s (Stephen Dorff) daughter dead. Ten years later, while still institutionalized, the Sawyer teen kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates. Pursued by authorities including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, Sawyer goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface, a psychopathic chainsaw-wielding killer who dons the faces of his tortured victims for keeping. ‘Leatherface’ is co-directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, adult language and some sexuality/nudity.
There’s certainly no shortage of Leatherface material for cinephiles to debate for the next several decades, so why not one more? ‘Leatherface’ feels like the peaceful proposal between the worlds of the original four films, the two Michael Bay remakes, and that AWFUL 2014 3D film, and for the majority of it, I can say that this film packed enough of a punch to make me believe that there is still plenty of fuel in the Texas Chainsaw fire as long as the right creative force is backing it. Here, we have the duo who helmed ‘Inside’, one of the most deranged and violent films of its respective year, and their presence is definitely felt in this R-rated gore fest that restores some (for lack of a better word) guts to the franchise. Sure, there’s no necessity in telling the origin of the man behind the mask, and the best mysteries should be left as just that, but the film takes some surprisingly original stances in crafting a completely new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, something that hasn’t seemed possible in the last twenty years. Is it great? No, but with incredibly low standards, this straight to Video on Demand offering has plenty to satisfy the cravings of its carnivores.
This plot is crafted as a bit of a whodunnit? mystery as to the identity of Jed, and which of these escaped kids from the mental asylum he really is. They’ve all been given new names to avoid their tragic pasts, so what I really dug about this intention is that we approach the most dangerous among them in the same way that his mother does in the film when she tries to see him ten years after he was taken from her. So in a sense, we too are put in the shoes of the head of this sadistic family, and what I appreciate about that aspect is that it immediately pulls you in to pay attention to the grizzly details, something that I have no qualms about saying that worked. Another surprising direction is that this is the first film in the franchise that follows along with our antagonist for the entirety of the film, an aspect that many of these big horror franchises have been fearful of to give away the mystique. In this aspect, we should learn more about him than we actually do in the film, but sadly one way that this film drops the ball is in learning how much we actually do learn once the mystery of his identity is solved. I won’t give away much, but it’s clear that he does have perhaps the least amount of exposition when locked up, but I was still surprisingly wrong with my choice of who it was, so maybe the plot twists alone will be enough to overcome the minimals.
As far as artistic touch is concerned for visual spectrum, this one caters more to the Michael Bay kind of filter. There’s a yellowish tint to give off the impression of throwback cinema, and to me this did more favors in the day rather than the sequences at night that are often too dark to register fully what is going on. This is especially the case with the final confrontation because it ends the film on kind of an 83 minute low, happening too briefly and poorly lit to ever leave us with that big consequence feeling. One aspect of the presentation stands out like a sore thumb even against the miniscule problems that I just mentioned, and that is the horrendous editing choices. For the majority, it stays safe and conventional, but every once in a while a scene will do a double take quick cut that will show the same person to a cut that feels like a noteable amount of time has passed. This became annoying because I started to look for it and seek it out in these scenes, and like a bootleg copy of a DVD that was recorded with a blocker on the box, the film skipped to this poor judgement almost to a timely capacity.
I mentioned earlier that this film is rated R, and what other way could you possibly construct a Leatherface story? If you’re a gore hound like me, you will be very well satisfied with the film’s unapologetic presentation to blood-splattering thrills that constantly seem to elevate and one-up the impact of their volume. The sound pushes these details even further, filling in the blanks in imagination for what you don’t see accordingly. This film gives a gun that crisp feeling so smooth that you can almost hear the oil being burned within it, and for a minimal budget of less than five million dollars, I am greatly impressed with what this film did with its limitations. Each aspect of shock topped the previous, but eventually it did become too much. There’s a sex scene in this film that gets to be a little much, and I could’ve done without the context-less angle of this particular scene that added nothing to the terror, and was just disgusting for the sake of it.
As expected, there’s not a lot to be commended performance-wise for this splatter-fest, but the work of Dorff as this revenge-driven sheriff is a thrill to watch even if you don’t agree with his stance morally. He has a bit of a Sherriff Wydell feel from ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ to him, so this certainly doesn’t feel like new or revolutionary directions, but Stephen is always someone who embraces a character fully to the point where it feels like he has been that person in real life for years. What’s so enticing about his performance is that you can almost see the blurred lines of justice and sloth coming together to form this shell of a man who is still reeling from this devastating loss that plagued him ten years ago. Other than Dorff, there’s not a lot to be pointed out here. I did enjoy Lili Taylor as the virtual commander of this legendary family, but the lack of focus and depth that these directors have for her kind of falls flat when the movie heads her way. Her screen time is quite limited, and that’s a shame because the best parts of the movie for me are when she’s colliding with the rival sheriff, but this film would rather follow the escaped patients mayhem, then the cops reaction. Rinse, wash, repeat.
THE VERDICT – For all of its limited budget and originality constraints, ‘Leatherface’ simply should not work, but the origin story played by way of a 90’s mystery killer component certainly gives way to 83 minutes of blood-soaked surprises that pushes forth with the best Chainsaw film in thirty years. Some production quality aspects should be left in the closet of experimentation, and the repetition overall in the second act is definitely the weakness creatively, but the injection of French style gore with a thirst for splatterpunk, breathes life back into this franchise eight films deep and proves that this saw still has a lot of gas left in it.