Director: David Blue Garcia
Writers: Chris Thomas Devlin, Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Cast: Mark Burnham, Elsie Fisher, Olwen Fouéré, Nell Hudson, Sarah Yarkin, Jacob Latimore
Cinematographer: Ricardo Diaz
Streaming on: Netflix
Shorter than its lean prequel, but stuffed with references to the current cultural climate and characters who operate outside the realm of rationality, Texas Chainsaw Massacre borrows the beats of its classic predecessor while misunderstanding its spirit, resulting in what often feels like a parody of the franchise. As a direct sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) — the film ignores the seven films in the franchise released since — it drops the underlying pathos that made the original so affecting, swapping it with a serviceable slasher plot that conveys its opinions about millennials with all the subtlety of a chainsaw hacking through flesh.
Both films follow a group of teenagers who travel to remote Texas, only to run into the chainsaw-wielding cannibal Leatherface. The original, however, recontextualised the horror genre by moving the focus away from the terror inflicted by the perpetrator, and emphasising the tragedy of his victims' deaths, rendered even more affecting by their youth. In that film, the teens' gory ends only came about because of their trusting nature. Set against the sweltering Texas summer, they exhibited the guilelessness of those in the spring of their youth. They picked up a hitchhiker in a strange part of the country, looked to planets in retrograde to make sense of their lives and didn't think twice before seeking shelter at an abandoned house. As desperate as viewers might have been to get them to reconsider their plans, they couldn't fault their obliviousness — who thinks about death in the prime of their life?
The sequel, on the other hand, proceeds to make its characters (played by Elsie Fisher, Nell Hudson, Sarah Yarkin and Jacob Latimore) as unlikeable as possible, casting them as the vapid perpetrators of gentrification and late-stage capitalism. When they travel to the Texas town of Harlow, intending to renovate and sell its properties to influencers, a Black character doesn't express distress at the sight of a Confederate flag, but at the thought of his woke investors spotting it. While details like these mark the Netflix film as firmly of this time, it goes on to shorten its shelf-life by dropping references to that viral 'feral hogs' tweet and threats to 'cancel' its villain, lines that while briefly amusing will only make the film seem like a period piece soon, given how fast internet culture shifts. The original, in contrast, stands alone as a timeless horror movie, its Vietnam War context and allusions to the rise of automation only visible upon closer inspection.
Now, nearly 50 years later, Leatherface springs into action when the group forcibly evicts his adoptive mother, the stress of which kills her. This decision to humanise the franchise's famous villain deflates much of the tension he carried back when he was just a mute symbol of doom. Is telling viewers that a man, who surgically peels off people's faces to wear as a mask, also happens to love his mother supposed to elicit sympathy for him? It's unclear.
One of the biggest problems plaguing the Netflix film, however, is its lack of texture. The standard Netflix sheen is omnipresent, whether the camera is capturing decrepit buildings or suffocating rows of cornfields. The original, on the other hand, was characterised by a visceral sense of the flesh and its fragility, from the opening closeups of gnarled hand tissue, to the hitchhiker who unnervingly cut his palm open in front of the horrified group. By the time the first kill occured, director Tobe Hooper didn't need to zoom into the violence. Just the long-drawn-out noise of the chainsaw revving was chilling enough. The sequel is liberal with the CGI blood splatter, but approaches the violence perfunctorily, with a cop being stabbed with his own protruding bone the only example of inventiveness. It's in bringing back its original Final Girl Sally Hardesty (originally played by Marilyn Burns, now by Olwen Fouéré) that the film demonstrates its lack of ideas, recasting her from an unwitting lamb to the slaughter to a hardened avenger, a character turn that doesn't land. It's not the only characterisation that doesn't make sense, given that a survivor of a school shooting finds catharsis by choosing to perpetuate gun violence too.
A sequence in which the events of the original film become fodder for a cheesy true-crime-style recreation in this one is perhaps what best encapsulates the writers' approach — an irreverent reworking of source material. Texas Chainsaw Massacre puts on its predecessor's mask, but can't replicate its soul.