Movie Review: “Leatherface”

   Leatherface is an American horror film directed by Juliet Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who were, in all honestly, the most appealing aspect I had from the outside looking in for this film. The duo is known, other wise, for the French horror film Inside, which I believe marked an impressive horror debut, making their future prospects worth looking out for.

   The film is written by Seth M. Sherwood, and stars Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, and Lili Taylor, respectively. Leatherface is the eighth installment in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, fitting into an established canon between the original 1974 film and the 2013 Texas Chainsaw 3D film and acting as a prequel to both films.

   The concept of an origin story of the popular character is not something I think many horror fans were clamoring for. The argument I hear the most in regards to these concepts is about in line with what everyone said about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake. The argument is that adding backstory will only work to their detriment, taking away their mystique, if you will.

   Generally, I would attest to that sentiment, but I would also argue that series’ like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, for instance, will be interpreted any number of different ways. Like Dracula and Frankenstein before them, we will likely see a lot more films from them, even twenty to thirty years from now, and, I would prefer an inspired approach over an approach that’s dependent on what has come prior. I also think it applies more to Michael Myers than it does Leatherface. I have always liked the idea that Michael Myers didn’t have a purpose, that he was evil incarnate, and became what he was because of what embodied him.

   In the remake, however, the character is reduced to a Psychology 101 bad life makes a monster back story, and, in that respect, I think it can be argued that it didn’t really need to be told. The same can be said about Leatherface, but, the difference is, the reason an origin for Michael Myers didn’t make sense is because, in my interpretation of the character, there was not an origin story to tell. His origin started in the opening minutes of the Halloween film, with nobody having any reason to suspect it. Leatherface, on the other hand, has a lot more to pull from in terms of his family and the lifestyle they live. Am I saying it had to happen? No, but I argue it is about every bit as logical as all the other Texas Chainsaw installments that came after the original.

   The film was announced prematurely after the supposed success of Texas Chainsaw 3D in January 2013. Turns out, they jumped the gun a little bit with their announcement, which was clarified by executive producer Mark Burg, who stated they had no right to make the announcement and no right to tell them when a sequel is ready to be made. What they didn’t plan on happening, however, was the 75.7% drop the film had in its second weekend, the 75.9 in its third, and the 72.9 in its fourth. Domestically, Texas Chainsaw 3D was barely able to match half of what its first weekend had, and overseas was not enough to carry it. Texas Chainsaw 3D made almost 50 million at the worldwide box office from a budget of around 20 million. This is not a downright misfire, but after the theaters have their cut of the profits and they cover the marketing budget they had for the film, it is likely this film had to count on synergy and home video sales before it started to churn an actual profit.

   I think that is why the new Leatherface film received a small theatrical release grouped in with On-Demand, because Lionsgate had cold feet and felt they could cut their losses by opting away from a worldwide theatrical release, that is also why I think this film sat on the shelves for almost a year before being dumped into its current situation.

  With that being said, and having seen the film, I can say that I don’t think this film would have succeeded at the box office, but I do think that it is among the better ones in the series.

  I know what you are thinking, and I will have to provide some explanation as this review continues. Beforehand though, I will say that I don’t have the nostalgic bond with the Texas Chainsaw films like I did with Elm Street, Halloween, or Child’s Play. In fact, I didn’t like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film very much when I watched it.

  Although I have nothing but respect for the late Tobe Hooper and his influence in horror, I don’t think of it as a great, or even good film. Granted, I have not seen the film in over seven or eight years and my mind has changed on things like this in the past.

  My opinion is the same in regards for its sequel, and, although I did not delve any deeper than that in the original series, the first remake and the Texas Chainsaw 3D film both did little for me. Although I did find some enjoyment from Sheriff Hoyt in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

  And so, with all my chips on the table, it is out and if you disagree, my recommendations or lack thereof might not carry a whole lot of weight with you any longer, with that being said, the going consensus from a lot of critics and moviegoers, while still mixed, have said they thought this film was a respectful homage to Tobe Hooper’s classic.

  As I have said, the film acts as a prequel, following the titular character in a story that sheds insight on what made him become the chainsaw-toting lunatic he is known as. With that, I think the only real thing you need to know is that it focuses on him as a child and that he finds himself separated away from his family in something kind of similar to a road trip horror.

  I feel that since we have hit the eighth film in the franchise, and that this film’s audience will no doubt dwindle with its limited release, most of you know if this film is for you or if it isn’t.

  The film clocks out with a run time of less than ninety minutes and has an approach that feels less like the standard slasher fare that we saw with Texas Chainsaw 3D, and instead, like a more ambitious slice of life for the Leatherface character.

  The film showcases his displeasure with the actions his murderous family is known for, and, obviously, eventually shows how he comes to terms with it and becomes someone who is able to thrive in said environment. I think if someone took a step back while watching this film, and forgot for a second that it was a prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film itself would have been able to stand more on its own as its own film drawing obvious inspiration, not unlike Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects.

  Even with that, I enjoyed Leatherface as a decent enough film. I thought the duo who helmed the film were the perfect team to direct a Chainsaw flick and although, it did not have as hard of an edge as I might have expected, I suspect this approach, although, rather simple and predictable, was a more thoughtful one.

   I enjoyed the tonal seriousness of the film. Comparing this to the last few films that came before it is like looking at an entirely different series. I cringe thinking back to some of the godawful lines from the Texas Chainsaw 3D film, but this film at least goes back to the series’ roots of playing it straight, as opposed to cheesy humor like 3D or the equally cheesy black comedy that was seen in the original film sequels.

  I found the origin itself a little bit different than what I expected. This might seem like I flip-flopped or contradicted myself, but what I expected is different than what this film provided. The “Leatherface” character is brain-damaged and generally animal-like in most of the films, but, in this film, he is not brain-damaged and is even consciously against what his family represents. This clearly means that something in this film has to happen in order to leave him brain-damaged or unstable as he is later in the continuity.

  I don’t know all the nooks and crannies of the Chainsaw lore, but, like Halloween’s interpretation, I never imagined a trauma “making” Leatherface, but thought it had more to do with him being molded by his upbringing and his mind already being very vulnerable and diminished because the effects of inbreeding. I always thought that was the shtick of the series, that someone like this could exist in an un-educated backwoods area, and the reason I thought this film could work is because I thought it would focus on his family dynamic and how his obedience and behavior was molded.

  The way they did it in this film, I think, is a lot less interesting, unfortunately, similar to what they did in the Halloween remake, but, looking at the film as its own unique concept, I have a little less dislike for it.

   The acting is mostly permissible, I would say that Lili Taylor as Verna Sawyer in the film is the only performance I think is really worth highlighting, but I don’t think anyone dishes out a downright bad performance.

   The cinematography and editing in this film is best when it is understated, which is seen, more pleasantly in the later parts of the film. The worst aspects are the scenes at the hospital which use excessive chop edits with a flickering light that succeeds at inducing migraines more than it does at instilling a sense of chaos or madness in said circumstances.

  I enjoyed the end, which was predictable, but was a nice way of turning convention on its head, but, once more, the film suffers because its approach makes moments like that a lot more diluted.

   I feel that what Leatherface amounts to is about what the general consensus has said. The film is a respectful iteration in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but it is also very predictable and very run of the mill. The characters aren’t highly developed and the story itself is only passable, certain editing and cinematography decisions had me scratching my head, but, really, for the most part, it is not enough to tilt it one way or the other.

   Leatherface, simply put, is a decent enough film, but stacked against its most recent predecessor, it is understandable to see why it might be held higher than that. I would recommend it to fans of the franchise, but I don’t believe it is the type of film that will change anyone’s mind or gather up many newcomers.

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