★ / ★★★★
A tidal wave of exasperation washed over me as I endured “Leatherface,” supposedly a horror film but more like a copy and paste of scenes from the most generic and uninspired of the genre released within the last fifteen years. Being the first film in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise which features only the name of one of the most recognizable villains in slasher picture history, one would be inclined to believe that screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood might have something interesting to say about the mind of a serial murderer who later wears his victims’ faces. Instead, we are provided an interminable hostage scenario so ludicrous that anybody with half a brain would scream at the characters to run with every easy opportunity to escape. Natural selection is not at play here.
It is a shame because two great character actors, often underrated, signed up for the project. Lili Taylor plays Verna, mother of the boy who would become the titular character. Meanwhile, Stephen Dorff portrays Hartman, a cop seeking vengeance against Verna’s family because her children killed his daughter. Both manage to create characters from nothing; they may be one-dimensional because the script lacks common sense, intelligence, and a genuine understanding of human psychology and behavior, but the parents command strong personalities. It is a missed opportunity that these two do not share more scenes because their clashes contain a semblance of substance.
Part of the would-be intrigue is guessing which teenager would become Leatherface. Because the boy was taken away from his mother at an early age and been given a new name while in a mental institution, it is mentioned that he might not even know who he is. There are three candidates: kind-hearted Jackson (Sam Strike), mute and corpulent Bud (Sam Coleman), and budding criminal Ike (James Bloor). It is not at all a challenge to guess correctly when the viewer comes to understand the mean-spirited nature of the project.
Yes, horror films can be the opposite. I argue that great ones are not rotten inside. In fact, a lot of them are hopeful because evil is almost always weakened or extinguished, at the very least defeated that day so the characters can have the opportunity to live their lives. Here, however, it is one ugly, barbaric death scene after another. Bags of flesh being slashed, beaten to a pulp, and decapitated tend to dull the senses not only due to the fact that they are terribly executed but they are also increasingly boring. Deaths do not have impact because every person we encounter is a caricature.
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, “Leatherface” is a limp origin story, empty of surprises, empty emotionally, and certainly one that drags. While there are moments of inspiration, directly tethered to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, particularly one that takes place in the woods at night as blue, almost alien-esque light penetrates through the trees, these are not enough to elevate moldy, rotting scraps into something marginally edible.