What constitutes a slasher, and how is a particular slasher franchise defined in an identity? Whilst Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a continuation of the very original, as Halloween (2018) was to that respective franchise (modern trend or ‘homage’?), it is undoubtedly having an identity crisis in that it has none of the spirit behind the original – likely to prove controversial amongst devout fans. Notably, it lacks any gritty realism and sombre commentary on rural family values (which is frequently, a debatable prejudice, associated to a backward mentality), both defining to the original. Conversely, it embraces the slasher subgenre collectively – gore galore, extravagant kills, tense pursuits (or hiding) and stereotypical roles, as Cabin in the Woods brilliantly parodied, for the slaughter.
As a slasher, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is fulfilling with each criteria – satisfying violence audiences crave and the tension we feel as the victims endure an iconic killer’s ferocity – very much the star (ironically) of any slasher to break or make such a production. Although there are various plot holes, such as Leatherface exact age, and the script itself may prove shallow from predictable drama, it’s a valid continuation to the lore of the original: Bubba’s now all alone – no family (explaining that absent element) – and the sole responsibility of a caretaker in a long expired orphanage. Overplayed enterprising teenagers, however, disturb his retirement – a misunderstanding causes the death of Leatherface’s only remaining ‘family’ and he’s no longer has any parental supervision to be docile. His backwater, derelict town is disturbed from an intrusively cosmopolitan furore – a clash of ‘rural folks versus city peeps’ we would also see embraced in Wrong Turn’s remake…
Texas Chainsaw Massacre might provoke fans from Bubba no longer being a mentally challenged boy who’s only manipulated and has little understanding of morals, where he instead channels a rage to become a sadistic force, but we have to understand the context in the film: he’s matured to some level and subsequently has no more family. Leather’s independence here is enacting an understandable vendetta – a sympathetic note in motive equivalent to him being an abused tool of deranged but cognizant relatives. This version of Leatherface, though, is brutal as a tantrum – he wants revenge for his life being unsettled.
An original cast member returns as a knock-off Laurie from Halloween’s second reboot, Sally Hardesty, who’s predictably been waiting for his return as a life goal – she could never escape the trauma. Her hardened presence, however, is a relatively benign side plot of a veteran – not to mention tribute to the original – that’s decisively resolved once in action … and she’s no Tommy Jarvis. Luckily, we have a whole cast of fresh, obnoxious deplorables to be violent entertainment in their ‘justified’ demise: the sisters Sarah and Elsie, Elsie’s partner Jacob and the local resident Richter! Not to mention a variety of miscellaneous friends, too, persuaded onto their enterprising venture of revitalizing Leatherface’s decaying town of three population – all now being acquired by influencers (extreme gentrification) as a pet project to likely promote ludicrously! Maybe Bubba could’ve been a chef for Elsie and Jacob’s cooking blog in a renovated, bustling town?
Interestingly, politics are regularly interwoven into the characters’ personalities, as is true to real life in the modern era, but I think that’s purely a statement of the politically charged times and connected to these being ‘city folk’ – it’s not utilized for any narrative agenda. The rural/city divide is proved to be nonsense ultimately – they’re all on the meat hook – and firearm control is ambiguous as ever on being right (viewer’s judgment as politics should be, no forced position). For example, Sarah is a survivor of a school shooting to explain her beliefs and temperament concerning firearms, but the backstory does not exist solely to moralise.
There’s an crowded party bus scene, too, for Bubba to intensely deploy his iconic chainsaw in a narrow space, dispatching any characters of no lines to focus the plot amongst the few remaining survivors, but I have to remark on another rip-off herein (reoccurring pattern): Mon Mon Mon Monster’s famous massacre inside a bus as a confined space. Did a mainstream American film copy an infamous scene of recent Asian horror, or is a bus simply a common idea for a setting of an easily controlled, contained massacre? Positively, it’s a savage scene showing the brute force of a chainsaw to our frail anatomy and does justice to Bubba’s favourite weapon- we’re easier to cut over mere timber!
A special mention, too, to Richter’s struggle and subsequent death, redeeming from the usual demeaning depiction of ‘hillbilly’ characters – it’s an absolutely bloody end with a mallet which rivals the finest of horror movie kills. Did he deserve the earlier snobbery of our endearing cast? Sarah’s presence – stealthily witnessing such brutality – is fantastically tense throughout this segment and also her ensuing attempt to flee; all the chase and hiding scenes are brilliantly performed, viewers will feel the adrenaline from how intense these become. Early in the film, after Bubba’s surrogate mother dies, a truck ferrying her, Bubba, two sheriffs and Ruth crashes – all from a bone-stabbing tantrum of Bubba as he shows early on how he will share delightfully visceral horror (well, exclusively to ‘gorehounds’)! Whilst Bubba is crafting his new face outside in a beautifully filmed moment on a scenic field, disturbing as it is disgusting, there’s an immensely tense scene involving Ruth trying to sneakily escape from the now revealed maniac…
Paced well, wasting little time at character development or worldbuilding, and with an adequate setup, while delivering splendid cinematography alongside effective SFX to CGI for gore sequences, Texas Chainsaw Massacre will deliver sufficiently to any slasher enthuiastists, but it will not necessarily be the film for purist fans – it has matured, as Leatherface has, into another beast they might not recognise. Bubba is here, but only to be a menacing figure for a serviceable slasher of identifiably general tropes. Is this a modern rendition of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with contrived political commentary to either spectrum, influencer personalities and their initiatives – a superficial replication of current trends in a mocking fashion? Bubba reduced to a juggernaut for chainsaw-rushing kills as seems expected nowadays? An old character returning as forced nostalgia and a shoehorned trauma subtext for that ‘link to the past’? Ultimately, I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre succeeds as a satire of modern horror trends in a manner surpassing Scream 5… and it didn’t need to overtly mock “elevated horror” or casually belittle sequel expectations. For instance, it exaggerated the politically divisive landscape of the USA for no pushed agenda, it simply is naturally and point unto itself; the age of the cannibalistic Sawyer family is finished indeed.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an enjoyable slasher and I was excited every time Leatherface revved his beloved chainsaw to unnerving scores of industrial whining – he only becomes progressively destructive on a level we’ve seen of recent slasher icons! The dialogue, too, is entertaining at least – the characters are far from monotonous, shallow terror we’d see from Paris Hilton in “House of Wax” and instead have a snappy appeal! Harlow, Texas will definitely become an attraction for dark tourism now in the crafted universe – a bitter irony considering the core cast’s idealistic intentions. This is David Blue Garcia’s second feature film directed and his experience as a cinematographer is on full display – any script faults aside, it’s professionally shot and scenes convey every essential emotion; I am hyped for his future involvement on any other horror project.
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