Many beloved horror franchises have been milked until nothing remains. This can be said for one particular horror movie series, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Antagonist & iconic, chainsaw wielding cannibal Leatherface has been a part of more than a few disappointing outings. Still, there seems to be a small hint of life remaining. In 2017, “Leatherface” became the eighth film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. It works as a prequel to 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, explaining the origin of the series’ lead character.
At the Sawyer household a party is being held by the family matriarch Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) for the youngest member of the family Jedidiah. As his present and to induct him into the sadistic family rituals, he’s presented with a chainsaw and forced to torture a man who they’ve accused of attempting to steal one of their pigs. Jed refuses, visibly disturbed, and the thief is killed by Grandpa.
A few months later a young couple; Betty Hartman and Ted Hardesty are driving through the families’ territory when they come across a seemingly wounded Jed. Betty follows him to a dilapidated barn where she’s promptly killed by the family. Hours later her father Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff) arrives to find her dead. As Verna arrives to protect her sons, Hartman quickly takes Jed into his custody as revenge, sending him to a mental asylum for disturbed youths.
Ten years later a new nurse is starting at the facility. She quickly forms a bond with patients Bud and Jackson who is oddly charming and respectful. Verna arrives later that night with an injunction in attempt to have a now teenage Jed freed but is rejected by the director of the facility. She breaks in, causing a riot during which many of the nurses and patients are killed. Lizzy is saved by Jackson who gets her outside to safety where the two are promptly taken hostage by crazed, escapees Ike and Clarice. As they leave they come across a bloodied Bud, who has just killed the hospital administrator and decide to take him with them.
Will the police catch up to the escaped patients? And just how exactly will Leatherface be introduced?
Leatherface (2017) tells an intriguing story but one that didn’t need to be told. Why do we need to know what it was that turned Leatherface into the madman that he is in later instalments? Why characters can’t be allowed to be shrouded in mystery is beyond me. I’ve never wondered what it was that made the entire Sawyer family so insane; I just accept that it is so. Going into this movie I knew there wouldn’t be a satisfying answer. It all makes sense in a predictable kind of way so why even bother?
Sure, it’s a fine enough horror movie with a decent amount of gore as you would expect. Still, I felt like it was holding back a little which is a shame. It certainly has the look and feel of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie which is a plus. The cinematography is enjoyable and the performances across the board are solid and convincing. I enjoyed Lili Taylor as Verna Sawyer but feel she was underused; I would have liked to see more from her.
There is a very clever twist in the film that feels predictable in hindsight but I cannot deny that it fooled me. Unfortunately, the build up to this twist is a whole lot of nothing. The film is fairly slow paced and lacks intrigue. My biggest issue with Leatherface is that it feels far too familiar to what has come before it. I was hoping for some fresh, new ideas but it looks like the franchise has little more to offer. I mean, we know exactly where things go after this movie so it leaves things feeling rather uninteresting. Leatherface cannot deviate too far which holds it back from doing anything truly creative.
In my opinion, it takes a slight risk in that it almost humanizes Leatherface a little too much. I don’t want to feel sympathy for horror movie villains, especially ones that wear other people’s faces. The purpose of this film was to explain why exactly Leatherface became the sadistic lunatic that he is in later movies. However, it fails to present a convincing case. I just don’t buy the reasons that are presented.
Overall, Leatherface is another movie in a tiring horror franchise. It isn’t bad but it isn’t exactly great either. It tells a story that probably didn’t need to be told and while there are a couple of highlights, it doesn’t deliver much to remember.