26th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘Leatherface’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Stephen Dorff, James Bloor, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Coleman, Sam Strike, Jessica Madsen, Finn Jones, Lili Taylor, Nicole Andrews | Written by Seth M. Sherwood | Directed by Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo

Leatherface_poster

Want to know the shocking incidents, twisted psychology and outrageous bloodshed that led up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the classic 1974 horror? Well, if your nerves can stand it, directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the duo who helmed the extreme French masterpiece Inside, will take you on one of the most terrifying experiences of your life in this stunning prequel. Four teenage patients escape from a mental institution, kidnap a nurse and take her on a road trip to hell. Pursued by a deranged lawman bent on revenge, the human skin-masked monster is about to appear…

Now that’s what the press for Leatherface states but – and this is a huge caveat – this iteration of Leatherface is a prequel ONLY to Texas Chainsaw 3D, the franchise entry produced by Millennium Films, the same company behind Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s prequel, which has seemingly been in release date limbo for what feels like an eternity. And as such it uses that film as the basis for this tale – including the “renaming” of the Sawyer clan, thanks to wedlock, to Carson. Only this time round Verna Sawyer-Carson is played by Lili Taylor, taking the reigns from Marilyn Burns (aka Sally Hardesty from the 1974 original) who played the ageing Verna in Texas Chainsaw 3D.

That’s not to say Maury and Bustillo don’t pay homage to the 1974 original, after all the Sawyer house here is a recreation of the original from the plans made for Tobe Hooper’s classic proto-slasher. There’s also nods to the visuals of not only Hooper’s original, but some of the many sequels that have followed (including the casting of Matthew McConaughey lookalike Dimo Alexiev as one of the Sawyer clan). However that’s the problem with Leatherface… It’s all about the visuals.

Packed with set-piece after set-piece, Leatherface feels like it was constructed around key scenes and cool visuals (including a stunning “rebirth” of the cast from the innards of a dead bull) and the story came second. In fact the story is so slight that it could have been told just as effectively in half the time. There’s also the issue of this being a Texas Chainsaw prequel – the constraints that are placed upon this story because it has to tie so closely in with what has come before means that the story seems neutered.

But the real issue is that Leatherface thinks it’s audience is stupider than they actually are. There’s absolutely no way anyone watching this film didn’t know which of the teenage escapee mental patients would, eventually, become the titular character – that’s not to say the script doesn’t try to through in red herrings, because it does – hell, one of the teenagers is an almost-mute, stocky, lumbering madman that curb stomps someone to death on a tree stump. If that’s not a red herring I don’t know what is! The problem with the audience knowing who will eventually become Leatherface is that that is the only thing you can focus on. Instead of being invested in the group of teenagers and their kidnapee, you’re instead just waiting for the transformation… And when that comes. It’s all a little dull.

Dull is not a word you’d want to use to describe any horror movie; and I’m sure Maury and Bustillo were not aiming to make a film that feels uninspired. But that’s what we’ve ended up with: a film that feels like just another Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie – there’s none of the expected flair that the directors brought to their previous productions, it seems like yet another paint-by-numbers entry in the long-running franchise.

Leatherface is a major misfire for the team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. It is, ultimately, the antithesis of what I expected from the makes of A l’interieur… Go watch Among the Living instead.

** 2/5

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2 Responses to “Frightfest 2017: ‘Leatherface’ Review”

  • Keith

    Texas Chainsaw is a sequel to the original. So Leatherface is a prequel to the original.

    • Phil Wheat

      As was explained at the screening: TEXAS CHAINSAW (3D) is a “new” franchise as far as Millenium Films, the production studio, are concerned. And LEATHERFACE is a Millenium Films production and considered only as a prequel to their first film, TEXAS CHAINSAW (3D). It’s not canon to Tobe Hooper’s original…