NOTE: This review contains spoilers.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre film franchise has been put through the wringer, its previous installment being 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D. I sheepishly admit that despite how horrific it was (I still physically cringe when Alexandra Daddario tosses Leatherface his chainsaw and says, “Do your thing, cuz!”), it’s a stupid guilty pleasure-watch during the Halloween season. As a longtime fan of Tobe Hooper’s classic and having seen the constant mediocre sequels and prequels over the years, I have learned to not expect much from new Chainsaw material. After all, audiences haven’t seen a solid take on Texas Chainsaw in years—and, unfortunately, we’ll continue to wait. While Netflix’s newest take on Texas Chainsaw Massacre is is a good popcorn flick oozing with some of the franchise’s goriest kills, it leaves much to be desired.
Harlowe, Texas, is an ex-Confederate ghost town in the middle of the Lone Star State—and, for some reason, the ideal spot for social media stars Mel (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) to start a new community. Innovative and bright-eyed, the pair drive through the heat with Mel’s traumatized sister, Lila (Eighth Grade‘s Elsie Fisher), and Dante’s fiancée, Ruth (Nell Hudson), in tow. The group is entitled and smug in this unfamiliar wasteland, save for Lila, who is reluctant to move with her sister as she still recovering from being the lone survivor of a school shooting. When they arrive in Harlowe, the group finds a battered Confederate flag hanging outside of the desolate town orphanage. Mel and Dante race inside to take it down before a busload of young investors arrive from Austin.
Inside the orphanage, they find an old woman (Alice Krige, playing it creepy as always in her role). Mel and Dante are quick to insist that she needs to leave and that the bank has taken her home. She pleads with them to let her stay, and the confrontation draws the attention of her lone charge, Leatherface (Mark Burnham). The old woman suffers a heart attack. On the way to the hospital, she dies, unleashing Leatherface into a horrific rage that leaves a gore-slick path in its wake. As Leatherface begins to slaughter and carve up the new residents of Harlowe, a familiar face returns in the form of Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, replacing the original’s Marilyn Burns). Hardesty, now a grizzled, hardened old woman, sets out to settle her score with the hulking serial killer.
Chainsaw has the potential to be a solid reboot of the cult classic, but it falls flat. Sally’s return—despite being a little bit too “Laurie Strode”—was something I was admittedly excited about when the trailer dropped. Unfortunately, the writers don’t seem to understand the iconic character they had to work with and kill her off like any other casualty of Leatherface’s serrated blade. We know little about Sally, about what she’s done the last fifty years or her personality. She’s a cookie cutter of every vengeful horror movie character, and I suppose I was just expecting… more. I wanted to see a big showdown between her and Leatherface, but instead only got her tearfully confronting him, him ignoring her, and then, two minutes later, chainsawing her through the chest so hard he lifts her off the ground. Our new final girls Mel and Lila don’t get to know her, and barely speak with her; there’s just no connection here, and with bringing such an iconic final girl like Sally back, I wanted something better than what I was given. Garcia wanted to bring Sally back to pass the torch from one Chainsaw generation to the next—but the execution fell flat.
There are also more questions than answers here. How did Leatherface find himself in an orphanage in Harlowe, Texas, away from his homestead in Newt? Why was he so protective of the old woman? Where are the other Sawyers, and what was the fallout of the events of Hooper’s classic? How did he get here?
I was particularly jarred by Netflix’s decision to incorporate social media. Why? It’s Texas Chainsaw. When I think of this franchise, I think rural, grisly, sweaty. I think of a chainsaw slicing through the sweltering Texas heat in the middle of nowhere, removed far from society. I really don’t want to see Instagram or TikTok right now.
Despite the film’s faults, Netflix’s Chainsaw isn’t all wasted. Mel and Lila are fun to watch; despite disliking her at first, Yarkin’s performance as Mel slowly grows on you, and soon you’re yelling at the screen, rooting for her. Her perseverance—and watching her wield Leatherface’s own chainsaw against him—was a cool touch. Another thing I need to note: major credit to Colin Stetson for a great score. That ending theme as the neon-slick credits rolled was fantastic.
The film is brimming with gory goodness, and may have some of the most gruesome kills in the franchise. Leatherface takes no prisoners; his murders are well-shot and brutal, and I appreciated Netflix’s decision to not hold back.
This rings true for one scene in particular; Mel and Lila become trapped on the bus with Harlowe’s potential sponsors in a horrific thunderstorm. Having slaughtered the bus driver, Leatherface comes on board, wearing the old woman’s face and an apron drenched in crimson. The sea of liberal sponsors (who are all twenty- and thirty-something influencers) raise their phones to record Leatherface. In seconds, the entire bus is splattered with their innards and blood, with Leatherface chainsawing people in ways I didn’t even think possible. It’s a horrific scene, but a revitalizing one for the franchise—just try your best to ignore the line written by an actual screenwriter in which a man says to Leatherface while recording a TikTok of him, “Try anything and you get canceled, bro.” It’s almost as bad as, “Do your thing, cuz!”
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a gore-slick wild ride, a fun popcorn flick with some familiar faces and some likable new ones—but it fails to bring life back into this beloved franchise.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
dir. David Blue Garcia
Streaming on Netflix Friday, February 18th.
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