“No one loves you like your family.”
Review by David Feltman
Right from the opening credits, “Texas Chainsaw” attempts to tie itself as closely as possible to Tobe Hooper’s original film and keep it’s distance from the recent Platinum Dunes remakes. The movie begins with the closing footage of the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” now transferred to 3D, and picks up immediately after the 1974 film, complete with cameos by Gunnar Hansen and Bill Mosley.
The story follows the lone survivor of the cannibalistic Sawyer clan after a lynch mob attack escalates into a Davidian-like shoot out. Alexandra Daddario stars as the surviving member of the Sawyer family who inherits her grandmother’s estate and, unbeknownst to her, her cousin Leatherface (Dan Yeager). The setup instantly falls into stale slasher patterns, as a cast of stereotypes makes their way to a cabin in the woods so the killer can pick them off one by one. “Texas Chainsaw” lifts entire scenes (close up of a road kill armadillo) and plot devices (kids in a van picking up a hitchhiker) directly from its predecessor, but never manages to capture or elevate its grindhouse aesthetics. The washed out color palate and wooden performances, while true to form, subtract more from the film more than they ever add.
What the film does surprisingly well is add some real depth to an otherwise shallow genre. In a thematic bait and switch, “Texas Chainsaw” transforms into a revenge story that meditates on loyalty, justice and post 9-11 notions of vengeance. This is the first film in the franchise that attempts to humanize the animalistic Leatherface. The writers accomplish this with small details, such as learning his real name is Jebediah and he doesn’t eat the crusts on his sandwiches. A simple exploration of motivations utterly and uncomfortably blurs concepts of good and evil. This may be the first film that allows you to sympathize for the guy cutting up people with a chainsaw.
For all the gore hounds out there, “Texas Chainsaw” utilizes a bounty of practical effects to offset all of the digital blood splatters. Such effects are occasionally cheesy, but always endearing. Yeager’s Leatherface is noticeably older but still big and brutal. Unfortunately, the 3D is completely unnecessary and, except for exactly two scenes, is completely unused. There are a number of great set pieces, like the shoot out and a carnival chase, which may have been spectacular if they had not been so haphazardly handled. But for all its shortcomings and disappointments, “Texas Chainsaw” is still a fun slasher that attempts something new with a genre in sore need of some innovation.