So, here’s the thing: going into Leatherface, I was primed to love it, despite not being a huge fan of Texas Chainsaw 3D (whose only saving grace was giving us the endlessly quotable line, “Do your thing, cuz!”). I’ll never write off a beloved franchise when I’m not crazy about a particular sequel—after all, if I had done that, I may never have fallen in love with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare or went bananas for Jason Lives. And for the most part, I was on board for Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s exploration of the Sawyer family’s demented dynamics, despite the fact that Leatherface feels like two-thirds The Devil’s Rejects and one-third Natural Born Killers.
But then, the film takes such an egregious misstep in the film’s third act that I completely checked out on Leatherface, and it left me wondering whether or not anyone involved with the film had any kind of understanding of just who the film’s eponymous character was at all. As a longtime fan of the world and characters first brought to life by Tobe Hooper, Leatherface just felt like a cinematic slap in the face, and it bummed me the hell out.
Leatherface starts off with easily one of the most deranged birthday parties that has ever graced the big screen, and we see how the Sawyer family has spent years grooming the younger members of the clan to become the murderous, plotting maniacs that we horror fans have come to love over the years. But after Ranger Hal Hartman’s (Stephen Dorff) daughter dies at the hands of the Sawyers on their property, he makes it his own personal vendetta to punish Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) by hitting her where it hurts most: taking her children and splitting up the family. And we know how the Sawyer tribe feels about their kin, or those who meddle in their business.
Flash forward a few years and we’re following a young nurse named Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse) as she starts her first day at a mental institution that harbors troubled youth. She befriends the charming Jackson (Sam Strike) and his non-speaking pal, Bud (Sam Coleman), and as she tries to find a way to relate to her new charges, a riot breaks out and the trio is taken hostage (sort of) by two other troubled teens (James Bloor, Nicole Andrews) on a savage road trip that leaves a trail of bodies in their wake.
Part road movie/part coming-of-age tale/part revenge-driven horror film, Leatherface never quite makes up its mind about just what kind of movie it wants to be, and suffers for its indecision. That’s not to say there aren’t some solid aspects to the film—the cinematography from Antoine Sanier is absolutely stunning and feels perfectly in line with the visual style of Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the practical effects in the film are some of the most impressive gore gags we’ve seen in horror movies in the last 10 years (right up there with 2013’s Evil Dead). Plus, Taylor, who has been a longtime favorite of mine, is absolutely fantastic as Mama Sawyer, and it’s hard for me to outright hate anything she’s in. But as a whole, Leatherface is such a disappointing entry because it spends so much time trying to be so many other things than just a straight-up Texas Chainsaw movie, and I couldn’t help but wonder why.
As mentioned, my biggest grievance with the film is what happens in its third act, and it’s not a discussion to be had without major spoilers. But let’s just say that the route Leatherface takes in the end feels wildly unnecessary and completely out of line with everything we know about the titular character, and that’s precisely when I felt like the film totally derails itself.
There will be some fans who will probably love Leatherface, and that’s cool, because I’m not the Texas Chainsaw sheriff by any means. But as someone who has spent so much of my life invested in this horrific world and these larger-than-life characters, I personally could not get past the ridiculousness that is the last 20 minutes of Leatherface. Such a bummer, indeed.
Movie Score: 2/5