Leatherface (2017) Review

2017 Leatherface Movie Review

Leatherface (2017)
Director: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
Screenplay: Seth M. Sherwood
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Lili Taylor

Leatherface is a…horror film? I think the scariest thing about it is that it was made. If you’re a fan of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but you also wanna know how Leatherface got these scars, you’re in luck! Before Solo gave us the most unnecessary backstory to a classic character, Leatherface gave us the yada yada yada on how that dude with the chainsaw in that cool old movie became that dedicated Ed Gein cosplayer we know and love.

You remember the slow burn of the first film? The beautiful cinematography, the protagonists that aren’t serial killers, and the clear plot? Leatherface is the antithesis of the Tobe Hooper directed horror classic.

During my research (read: I checked out the wiki), I discovered Sam Strike loved the script because it was so character driven. I’m curious to know which character’s arc intrigued him so much. I cannot tell you anything about these characters they don’t exposit about themselves. “That’s Bud, he’s quiet.” Thanks, movie. We also learn Bud is violent through dialogue. That’s literally his entire character. Strike’s character, a seventeen year-old Leatherface, is supposed to be a good guy? He’s in a psych ward, but all of our knowledge of this character justifies that. He wears human skin, kills using chainsaws, and he’s a cannibal. He needs some serious therapy just based on the first scene (which is shot like a music video but without any rhythm to it. The shooting and editing lack the tightness and speed necessary to allow them to build a scary atmosphere). We see Jed (Leatherface’s real name) during a birthday celebration as a kid. His family tries to make him murder a guy, but he doesn’t. His characterization throughout the rest of the film is completely lacking. He’s supposed to be struggling with identity, but he has no problems or conflicts that aren’t instantly resolved in his favor.

After the birthday party, Jed and his brothers murder a policeman’s daughter. He, justifiably, removes Jed from the family of psychopaths. This sets the officer up to be a complicated antagonist. Instead, he becomes more sadistic throughout the film just to make our murderous hero look like the good guy. A couple we meet in the psych ward also serves the purpose of making Leatherface look like an upstanding Everyman. This Bonnie and Clyde couple help Jed, Bud and a nurse – who Jed Caulfield doesn’t think is a phony. His sole motivation in this relationship is that she’s nice. Her sole quality is that she’s nice. She might as well not be a character – escape.

This is the point where I realized I’m not watching a horror film; I’m watching a gory, action grindhouse flick. It’s so far removed from the original that it’s offensive.

A lot of this film is also an attempt at emulating Saw. In the scene with the murder of the policeman’s daughter, she falls into a pit and has metal dropped onto her in a barn. The setting, use of contraptions and gory head explosion scream Saw. The opening scene is also reminiscent of David A. Armstrong’s closeups in Wan’s first film. However, this lighting is even and bland to a point where it looks like a Hallmark movie or CW drama. Another production issue is that the film takes place in the 60s, but there was almost no attempt to make anyone look like they aren’t from 2015. Almost all of the performances are trite, unenthusiastic or lazy. Worst of all, you can see the camera, boom and crew in a pair of sunglasses that are taking up a large portion of the frame. They couldn’t take the time to edit that out or reshoot? These sorts of problems continue to pile up as the movie goes on. These directors have created interesting, visceral cinema before (A l’intérieur – 2007 – a French home invasion film), and I’m very disappointed in this outing.

After the escape, the movie is suddenly about that killer couple on the run with three tag-alongs. They go on a rampage, shooting up a diner and stealing a car. They then proceed to squat in a motorhome. The characters say they’re going to Mexico, so everyone finally has a goal. But, as these scenes drag on, it’s obvious from the pacing that we aren’t getting to Mexico. This group of insane teens will get about ten miles from the asylum they left before they run out of gas. The film takes an off-putting turn as we arrive at the motorhome.

I understand that these films have cannibalism and masks made of human skin, but this film takes shock to an extreme that only serves its own needs. We see a spooky corpse in a jump scare, only to have a character allude to the fact that we are seeing the aftermath of an autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong. Then, the crazy couple proceeds to share their passion with the corpse in a scene that is more disgusting than provocative. It’s an empty attempt, like most of the gore and violence in the film. When none of your characters matter to the audience, violence is no different from watching someone else play a video game.

The climax of this film takes about twenty minutes to resolve such little plot. Through a convoluted series of events, Jed gets his jaw blown off, gets it sewn together by his mom (or whatever she is) and then chainsaws the policeman who it turns out is actually a bad guy, making it okay when the protagonist murders him. Jed does go on to kill the nurse who was nice to him, though. Oh, what could have been between the nurse and psychopath whose relationship was so short it makes Pete and Ariana look like a lifetime.

Why this film? What did we learn about Leatherface? He was nice, then he murdered someone when they killed Bud. Now he kills people. I don’t feel like this journey was worth the 87 minutes. I feel like I don’t know anything of note about this character that made this film so important. Was this an attempt to retcon his mental disability to make the series more sensitive? Was this an attempt to start a new series with Sam Strike as Jed? I’m glad that (probably) won’t happen. This film is derivative shlock, and not even fun derivative schlock. Skip Leatherface and watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre again instead.

3/24

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Jacob Davis

Jacob is a film critic, and co-host of the podcast Three Guys One Movie.
pod and me