LIONSGATE FILMS (2017)

 

Directors: Alexandre Bustillo / Julien Maury

 

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Finn Jones, Nicole Andrews, Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Jessica Madsen

Good evening Mr…L. Face, how can I hel…aaaaaagh!

 

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre brutalised audiences in 1974 with its visceral horror, gore and utter grimness. People would leave the cinema near-traumatized, though I doubt many were asking, “Who was that leather faced guy?” Alas, we have been granted an answer to that unrequested question courtesy of Inside helmers Maury and Bustillo. That movie is akin to being hit by a truck, albeit a fantastic truck. Could they bring their artistic wonderments to Leatherface?

 

Sort of.

 As a direct prequel to 1974's  original, the movie delivers the origin story of the chainsaw wielding maniac known as Leatherface. Beginning 18 years before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a young woman is brutally murdered in an old Texan farmhouse by members of the Sawyer family, a family that clearly takes immense pleasure in the utter suffering of others. The deceased is the daughter of loose cannon Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Dorff), who exacts revenge on the family by having the children put into care, therefore preventing their mother Verna (Taylor) access to them. As they grow into young adults ten years later, they are placed into a mental hospital under the guise of Nurse Lizzy (Grasse). The head Doctor (Chris Adamson) has a great reliance and belief in mental punishment and degeneration via shock treatment, and obviously, he isn’t held in high esteem by his patients.

 

Ike (James Bloor), Jackson (Strike), Bud (Sam Coleman) and Clarice (Madsen) eventually escape, taking Lizzy hostage, with the help of mother Verna, and begin their blood-soaked, death-filled road trip back home to reunite with their weird (very weird) family. Tracking them the whole way is Hartman, desperate to dish out his own method of justice to the family. What he doesn’t realise is one of the kids he is chasing down will very soon become the feared murderbeast Leatherface.

 

Maury and Bustillo serve up a grisly slice of road trip-revenge horror with Leatherface. There’s the requisite gore, twisted behaviours and nasty endings for characters, but the bloody deaths aren’t overly dwelled upon – the directors opting for more stylistic editing rather than simply getting in there with the splayed guts – one ill-advised necrophilia scene aside. In one way, this works quite nicely and in others it becomes distracting – there were a few moments where it wasn’t completely clear what was happening due to quick cuts and strange lighting choices. Depending on your need for gore, you’ll either be satisfied or left wanting more. The directors showed their penchant for the red stuff with Inside, but chose to take a slightly altered path here. The aforementioned lighting issue aside, Leatherface displays the two directors signature grungy, gloomy visuals – it’s a very grubby looking movie and their style highlights the dirt nicely.

 

The movie ties in nicely with the original and Texas Chainsaw 3D, complimenting them and becoming the prequel to those movies (ignoring every other one made) fairly seamlessly, and there are many nods and tie-ins to connect the three movies together. We get greater looks at Grandpa Sawyer in a more cohesive state and Verna is given more to do and an explanation is given as to her later riches. The Sawyer family as a whole get backstory and it’s clear the writers did their research before shooting, which is always a bonus.

 

Whilst the movie takes a different approach to the usual ‘teens stumble into a house and get butchered in inventive ways’ – aside from the opening scene where an unsuspecting teen follows a young boy dressed as a PIG into a grimy farmhouse - there is still a sense of familiarity in how Leatherface unravels. It doesn’t take too much to work out who’s making it out alive and who becomes the iconic villain. The origin for him, however, is welcome – he wasn’t just simply ‘born evil’ or kills out of unrequited lost love. The final twenty-five minutes is some fine horror and ties up questions as to why Leatherface cannot speak and why he…well, looks like he does. The acting across the board is decent, with no real complaints as Taylor and Dorff stood out with their performances. Everything in the movie ties into the adjective ‘decent’ – it never really punches above a certain level, and, a few awry scenes aside, never really falls below that same standard either.

 

For a movie that didn’t really need to be made, Leatherface delivers a decent overall product. I didn’t love the movie, it was simply pretty good. As an homage and link to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it works well without ever hitting its lofty heights. If you want a horror movie to watch on a cold, dark night, Leatherface is a solid offering without ever really excelling.

 

Now to sew my next face on.

September 23rd 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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