2.5 out of 5 stars

“Officially, on the records, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened”, the opening crawl to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) rung in my mind as a new legacy sequel appeared from nowhere. Followers of major horror outlets had some warning, but other than a trailer Netflix has discarded this horror juggernaut out in the Texas sun like Sally’s grandpa. Halloween (1978) and Scream (1996) are slasher franchises promoted like blockbusters by their studios, which makes the treatment of ol’ Leatherface all the more concerning. Firing the original filmmakers and pulling this from theatrical release suggests a story ominous enough to be narrated by John Larroquette.

Nearly 50 years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and everyone is talking about Halloween (2018), but the returning Final Girls of Laurie Strode or Sally Hardesty serve as reminders that modern victims are no longer the naïve, relatable rank and file of old. These characters have motivations, aspirations, and #squadgoals. The “gentri-fuckers” of Texas Chainsaw Massacre have rather interestingly bought out the abandoned town of Harlow with dreams of “a chance for people to start fresh without the violence and the madness”. When a good ol’ Southern boy jokingly refers to it as a cult, it elicits a chuckle at the absurdity. It does sound exactly like a scam! If not for a titular chainsaw massacre, this place would absolutely go down in history as the next great Fyre Festival.

Tobe Hooper straddled a beautiful ride of subtle social commentary in the original TCSM to the rollercoaster farce of his own TCM2. Film Twitter’s been fiercely debating the intentions of this new direct sequel, and to placate absolutely no side I have a galaxy-brain take. The film is led by idealistic liberals with their hip sardonic praise of “the joys of late-stage capitalism” and yet this “woke” movie intends us to enjoy their brutal slaughter. Much like Twitter, the screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, based on a story by Rodo Sayagues (Don’t Breathe 2) and Fede Alvarez playfully stokes antagonism between parties right off the gate as one teen spots a gun-toting fella and insults his manhood within earshot. Do we side with our supposed protagonists or feel sympathy for the poor man just minding his own business? Whether leaning blue or red, we all come out the meat grinder the same, perhaps we embrace the madness and side with poor Leatherface (Mark Burhham) here.

The catalyst for his righteous vengeance is when Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) discover an elderly woman sucking air from a tank, hidden away in an old orphanage. She might be flying the confederate flag, but she’s looked after so many kids over the years and is still caring for one big lummox today. Too frail to leave (Lila mentions the seven-hour drive from anywhere) they can’t stay as potential investors are inbound, so the two new property owners forcibly evict her via police, causing her a fatal heart attack. If this news broke online, not a single tweet would ever come to their defence, they’d be vilified by the public. These terrible, no-good people only breakdown and panic when confronted with the notion they don’t legally own the premises. They might be sleeping soundly if only they kicked her to the curb legally. It’s 2022 and everybody wants to see a landlord get what’s coming to them.

Like a pantomime, we become exponentially more invested in booing and cheering these villains with every close call. Melody will go down in horror history as one of our great love-to-hate characters—like Trent from Friday the 13th (2009) and Tina in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), or even the mayor from Jaws (1975). Her continuing survival makes for a fascinating subversion of everything we expect in a horror movie. This is a Final Girl we want to see get got, and so every narrow escape in the genuinely entertaining suspense sequences is a flurry of conflicting emotions. Major credit to director David Blue Garcia, who joined the production a week into shooting and crafts some impressive moments of tension that don’t rely on cheap jump-scares or gratuitous gore.

I should make clear that Melody isn’t the Final Girl, as she shares that honour with her sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), who provides the more expected milquetoast heroine—although that’s perhaps a harsh description given she’s recovering from a high school shooting. Between her subdued demeanour and the svelte running time, we never do get a good impression of her personality before the carnage, which is a shame as both Yarkin and Fisher give commendable performances.

I’d rather blame studio interference than Christopher S. Capp’s editing for the truncated 81-minute experience, as it really is the core issue instigating conflict between haters and defenders. Gentrification, gun-control, Southern pride, mass shootings, and cancel culture are not the problem in their inclusion. The original film wove in themes of classism and recession, and what self-respecting horror film today isn’t about trauma? However, throwing them all up into the air means they create an inconsistent conversation that a film more concerned with chopping up teenagers is never going to engage with. A popular defence of the film has been that we’re simply ignoring the base purpose and pleasure of violent entertainment, which echoes the sentiment that horror can simply be clean, dumb, fun. Texas Chainsaw Massacre certainly savours a grindhouse exploitation sensibility as a bus full of millennials literally becomes a meat-grinder, and yet teases aimless discourse with peppering in PTSD flashbacks from Lila as she tries to escape. How can we fully appreciate the spectacle of a chainsaw tearing through a man’s crotch before being plunged into a woman’s when we’re being reminded of the real tragedies of mass shootings?

Texas Chainsaw Massacre tries to fully embrace the gonzo madness of the original. A teenager overcoming her trauma of being shot by equipping a gun and shooting wildly is bewildering. The words of inspiration “don’t run, he’ll only keep haunting you” in context infer a completely batshit insane notion if only more people had guns, they could defend themselves. Between Melody surviving so long, and original Final Girl Sally (Olwen Fouéré) returning for about five minutes as a raving dumbass, we’ve left the realm of sense and logic. But that’s where Leatherface lives, in the maddening heat of Texas, and there are no political debates happening at that family dinner scene…. just pure, incoherent laughing and screaming.

USA | 2022 | 81 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: David Blue Garcia.
writer: Chris Thomas Devlin (story by Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues; based on characters created by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper)
starring: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Alice Krige, Jessica Allain & Nell Hudson.