The sight of yet another Texas Chainsaw Massacre is enough to make a preacher cuss in contempt for a franchise that has been rebooted/retailored too frequently for each installment to have less staying power than the previous one. Beyond the original four, we’ve had the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay-produced reboots in 2003 and 2006, a miscalculation of 3D proportions nearly a decade ago, and a Leatherface origins story in 2017. David Blue Garcia’s latest is now the third film to bear the same title as Tobe Hooper’s 1974 game-changer.
Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre — written by Chris Thomas Devlin with story contributions from the Don’t Breathe duo Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues — is the best film since Hooper’s OG. It’s a lean and mean dose of adrenaline with only four major characters, one ghost town, and enough blood to flood the red dirt road in between.
Picking up 50 years after Leatherface’s killing spree, a group of entrepreneurs have set their sights on making the abandoned town of Harlow, Texas the next entertainment hub for millennials sick of the busy city. The “gentri-fuckers,” as one gas station attendant calls them, are led by Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin), who are hoping to host a busload of investors for an auction on the soon-to-be-refurbished properties. Melody’s sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade), a school shooter survivor, is also in tow, as is Dante’s fiancée, Ruth (Nell Hudson).
The four arrive in Harlow and are immediately perturbed by the sight of a tattered Confederate flag flying out of the window of an orphanage. The home is run by an elderly woman, who has refused to leave. In the midst of being drug out, the woman has a heart attack, much to the dismay of the last resident for whom she’s caring. That resident is Leatherface (Mark Burnham), who sends the ambulance carrying his de-facto mother off the road and proceeds to exact revenge on the quartet.
Olwen Fouéré also shows up as Sally Hardesty, the lone survivor from Leatherface’s original massacre in 1973, effectively making Garcia’s latest work of the franchise a requel — my new favorite piece of terminology from the latest Scream. Here’s another movie functioning in a franchise that’s become such an ungainly mess chronologically that the only solution is to introduce new faces, throw in an old one, and let the audience decide where it fits, to paraphrase Alvarez himself.
The inspiring news, however, is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre is quite entertaining for what it is. Its provocations are unmistakable. The culture divide between traditionalist rural folk and self-righteous city slickers is illustrated in the beginning, when Melody makes a “small penis” jab within earshot of a local (Moe Dunford) carrying a pistol in his holster, only for the group to later discover he’s the contractor on their project. The hornet’s nest is further kicked when a busload of Gen Z investors hold their phones up to a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and inform him he’s about to get “cancelled” seconds before he revs up. And you just know the African-American Dante is bound to be the unfortunate recipient of some casual racism from Harlow residents from the first time he’s seen on screen.
All of this is a touch under-developed, but the foundation is sound enough for a 74-minute (sans credit) slasher to feel weightier than the messy, visually ugly movies that preceded it. Not worth nothing is the work of cinematographer Ricardo Diaz, who employs vintage lenses that highlight the rustic colors of the south. I’m not sure a Texas Chainsaw Massacre has ever looked this good. The gold palette is pronounced, the darkness loans character rather than obscures it, and the practical gore makes each kill more grisly and real. Also fun: the blue strobe lights on the bus during the aforementioned slaughter make the guts and gore appear dark purple.
Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t as tethered to legacy in a way that’s as satisfying as David Gordon Green’s Halloween movies. It does know its center, however, and delivers on more than the murders you anticipate. It superficially stirs the pot, which loans itself more of a reason to exist than its counterparts, and the tight new cast assures quality over quantity in both development and kills.
NOTE: Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now streaming on Netflix.
Starring: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Jacob Latimore, Nell Hudson, Mark Burnham, Moe Dunford, Jessica Allain, Olwen Fouéré, and Alice Krige. Directed by: David Blue Garcia.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!