In Leatherface, the latest prequel in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, French filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury take us back to the earlier years of the Sawyer family, where Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) is living happily with her inbred children. They’re bad, you see, and hurt people for absolutely no reason. Three of the boys murder a young girl, who ends up being Texas Ranger Hal Hartman’s (Stephen Dorff) daughter. With his daughter taken from him, he uses the criminal system to commit all of her boys and take them away from her. 10 years later, several inmates escape, leaving a bloody path in their wake as police try and chase them down. Spoilers follow.
Leatherface is an incredibly confused coming-of-age story of the title character that loses much of its potency in telling the story from the perspective of the killers. It’s oddly reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers only lacking any sort of social commentary as these kids blow the head off an innocent waitress and fuck atop of a corpse. It’s mean-spirited in a way that’s counter productive, feeling more like a desperate attempt to cram the original Texas Chainsaw vibe into an art film that’s only connection to the original franchise is the name “Sawyer”.
It only becomes a Texas Chainsaw film in the final moments of the third act when our final girl ends up back in the Sawyer house and our coming-of-age story comes full circle, giving birth to the iconic chainsaw-wielding Leatherface. The film feels caught in the crossfire of various reboots and pre-makes, landing somewhere between Rob Zombie’s god-awful Halloween and Platinum Dunes’ remakes of both Friday the 13th and (ironically) Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While fans complained about how Leatherface got his chainsaw in the 2003 incarnation, the filmmakers here make an entire movie literally about how he becomes so connected to the saw, and his family. It’s a phenomenal idea, in theory, only it lands awkwardly in the same place as Rob Zombie’s Halloween (by giving too much character to Michael Myers). Horror fans never really wondered why Leatherface was the way he was, and it’s always been pretty clear that he’s just a pawn in the fucked up Sawyer family tree.
With this prequel, writer Seth M. Sherwood spends too much time trying to trick the audience into thinking Bud (Sam Coleman) is going to become Leatherface. Not only does it become a constant distraction, but it’s insanely obvious he’s not. In fact, it’s one of the worst red herrings in recent memory.
The icing on the cake is how fucking good this movie is when Bustillo and Maury get to play in the real Texas Chainsaw Massacre sandbox. It has moments of greatness leading up to the finale that feels like it really should have been the opening to the story, instead of its closing. Leatherface feels like a huge missed opportunity cut up by overthinking something that’s always been as simple as the saying, “Saw is family.”
Leatherface screened at the FrightFest in London. It’s now on DirecTV with a limited theatrical run and full VOD release through Lionsgate revved up for October 20, 2017.