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Movie Review: The “TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE” is getting a little rusty

Monday, February 21, 2022 | Reviews


Starring Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher and Mark Burnham
Directed by David Blue Garcia
Written by Chris Thomas Devlin

The debate about the latest TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has been raging online since the movie had its Netflix premiere on Friday, which speaks to the passion this franchise, and the Tobe Hooper classic that launched it, have sparked over the last several decades. That enthusiasm has also translated to filmmakers repeatedly trying to recapture the grotty, insane magic of the ’74 film, which has proven only to be lightning that can’t be rebottled. TEXAS CHAINSAW 2022 winds up being one more false start to a wannabe new franchise, taking especially transparent inspiration from another recent relaunch.

That, of course, would be David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN, which got a lot of its juice from bringing back Laurie Strode for a new faceoff with her homicidal no-longer-her-brother, Michael Myers. Similarly, TEXAS CHAINSAW 2022 reintroduces Sally Hardesty, Leatherface’s final girl in the Hooper film, still itching for payback all these years later. What its creators either didn’t understand or ignored was that the big excitement about HALLOWEEN really lay in the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to her iconic role. With original Sally actress Marilyn Burns deceased, a lot of that fan-service charge is gone here with a replacement actress in the part. No bads on Olwen Fouéré, whose performance as older Sally is just fine under the circumstances, but her subplot is developed and resolved in a perfunctory, unsatisfying manner.

That’s true of the new TEXAS CHAINSAW in general, which runs only 74 minutes plus credits and very much seems to have left material on the editing room floor. In particular, the character of Ruth (Nell Hudson) has literally nothing to do and almost nothing to say before she’s sent off on a side trip that spells her doom. She’s one of a small group of millennials who arrive in rundown Harlow, TX with the aim of spiffing it up and turning it into a tourist destination. The point of Chris Thomas Devlin’s script, from a story by producers Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, is clearly to satirize these Gen Z-ers and give them the comeuppance they’re set up to deserve when Melody (Sarah Yarkin), early on, casually insults a gun-toting good ol’ boy in a pickup truck.

There are, in fact, faint stabs at eliciting sympathy for the hulking Leatherface (Mark Burnham), but the movie never fully commits the rooting interest one way or the other, as we’re also supposed to feel for Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), the survivor of a school shooting. Devlin and director David Blue Garcia’s handling of this hot-button subplot is also problematic: Not only does it feel like a too-easy/trendy ploy to get us on Lila’s side, but (SPOILER ALERT) the message of its ultimate resolution–that what Lila really needs to get past the trauma of that violent tragedy is to pick up a gun herself and start blasting–is insensitive and insulting.

Garcia does bring a few atmospheric touches in the early going, as when he sets a key sequence in a field of dead sunflowers, and whips up a memorable, splattery setpiece set aboard a party bus. TEXAS CHAINSAW 2022 in general is astronomically bloodier than Hooper’s trendsetter, yet it never feels nearly as frightening. For all the attempts to recapture its predecessor’s gritty atmosphere, the new movie is still too slick to duplicate that go-for-broke insanity, that sense of truly being trapped in a madman’s world (which Alvarez and Sayagues elicited far more successfully in their own DON’T BREATHE). Shooting Bulgaria for Texas, with the Harlow buildings sometimes looking like set fronts, doesn’t help, but the real issue is the lack of story tension and character involvement. The young people (also including Jacob Latimore’s Dante) are ciphers, and the great Alice Krige is wasted in a thankless role (why couldn’t she have played Sally?).

Burnham is certainly physically imposing as Leatherface, though that calls up questions of how he’s still in such good shape at what must be, since the film takes place in the present day, the age of at least 74. The filmmakers might have been able to deal with this by setting the movie only 20 or so years after the original, making it one more piece in the crazy-quilt puzzle of remakes, sequels, prequels and reboots that have attempted to homage/cash in on the Hooper film. As it stands, what TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2022 reinforces, more than anything else, is the idea that filmmakers should just stop trying.