But she will be missed—or something! Her orphanage-mate is a silent, hulking presence that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of this franchise knows as Leatherface. And now that she’s gone, he’s pissed. This setup gives the antagonist something that has long eluded him: a motive. Not that he needed one to start hacking away at tourists—as the original movie, as well as 1978’s Halloween proved, psychopaths are at their scariest when their reasons for murder aren’t so spelled out. Without a reason, our horror antagonist is evil incarnate—a force in human shape. The alteration here is certainly conversant with Hooper’s original vision (as is Leatherface’s only ostensible family member being a woman—the movies typically depict him situated in a patriarchy with no maternal presence), but this is change for change’s sake. It’s about as cosmetic of a decision as cutting off someone’s face and wearing it, which Leatherface does to the corpse of his caretaker…in tribute, I guess? Who knows what this maniac is thinking!


The hunting begins and the saving grace of this latest Chainsaw is a one-two punch centerpiece of sequences. The first depicts Melody (Sarah Yarkin) attempting to sneak out of the orphanage after Leatherface has returned—she lies silently then creeps and jumps and crawls, squeezing tension out of every frame. I didn’t realize I cared about this character’s survival (she’s a gentrifier who contributed to the death of an old woman…who I also am not sure I should care about since she was a racist) until Yarkin sold it. Soon after is a neon-lit sequence on the party bus that the investors arrived in. Leatherface steps aboard and commences to cutting through them, person by person in a slow-mo, hallucinatory sequence that plays like Euphoria on the ultimate bad trip.

Image for article titled A Socially Conscious 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' Can’t Quite Hack It
Image: Netflix

Those scenes are sheer terror staged extremely well. The remaining elements of the script are not nearly as savvy. The aforementioned moral ambiguity of the characters is an admirable attempt at depth that isn’t quite practical—it’s really hard to know who to root for if you put any thought into this movie (and I’m not so sure you’re supposed to put thought into it). Worse, Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher, who starred in Eighth Grade—if you think junior high is tough, try visiting Texas!) plays a school-shooting survivor, replete with a bullet wound on her upper chest. As she chats with a surly but well-meaning local, Richter (Moe Dunford), she becomes entranced by his semi-automatic gun and then during the film’s climax, she wields a shotgun to battle Leatherface. “See, guns can be good!,” the movie seems to suggest in tracing Lila’s journey from target to shooter. Did the NRA have a hand in producing this?

If Lila has any trauma—the topical cornerstone of the modern horror movie that desperately wants to have something to say—she hides it well. So too does Sally Hardesty, the prototypical final girl of the original film who’s back to settle the score with Leatherface after attempting to find him for 50 years, in a premise ripped right out of the 2018 Halloween requel. What does it say about Sally that she searched in vain for half a century when a bunch of wannabe influencer kids roll into town and stumble upon the guy almost immediately? Nothing kind! Sally, played by Olwen Fouéré (Marilyn Burns who portrayed her in the first and fourth movies, died in 2014), is accordingly treated as little more than a device to pad a brief movie and put a shotgun in Lila’s hands. The character was threadbare to begin with (she’s little more than a screaming girl throughout the first one), so perhaps it’s just as well that she remains barely there at all.


If the two centerpiece scenes are worth the price of admission (free with a Netflix subscription!), the movie’s final shot is a delicious bonus. I won’t spoil it but it involves an incredibly slow-moving, self-driving car, a sun roof, and a decapitation. Leave it to a depraved franchise as Texas Chainsaw Massacre to wring a laugh out of those ingredients.