There has yet to be a horror film with the grisly, depraved spirit that 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre brought to the genre. There’s simply no villain quite like Leatherface. He has no mercy in his bones; his identity is a warped everyman’s visage kept hidden at the heel of his insecurities. He is ruthless and despicable, but he is sympathetic in his way. He doesn’t move without cause, making his impact that much greater. He is an absolute beast, and there is a reason he and his legacy loom large into the 21st century. With this in mind, it was hard not to get excited about the direct sequel David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre promised to be. With Evil Dead remake genius Fede Alvarez producing, and an apparent dedication to meaningfully furthering the original storyline, it seemed like there was no way this new version of the worst crime in Texas history could be a misstep. It turned out to be a trite modernization of the original, resting on topical concepts that it doesn’t know how to comment on—or at least, it’s not saying what it thinks it is.
Screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin’s interpretation of this furthering of the franchise—from a story by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues—follows Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), two young chefs who bring a group of wide-eyed folks looking for change to Harlow, a Texas ghost town seven or eight hours outside of Austin. The goal is to breathe life into the abandoned town, resettle it and build from the ashes of the identity it left behind. But Melody’s younger sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), isn’t exactly into the idea of leaving their life in Austin behind. Soon, they discover they are not alone in their new home, and that their decision to move here will be one they will regret.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre initially takes a hard anti-gentrification stance, immediately casting the newcomers as gentrifiers in the eyes of every local (and there are few, as to be expected) that we come across. The angle, however, doesn’t work: Aside from the film’s inciting incident, there isn’t actually anyone to kick out or displace—in fact, the leads mention that the bank repossessed the abandoned properties, “abandoned” being the key word. This isn’t someone’s grandmother’s Bed-Stuy brownstone, these are buildings that need work and repair to live and work in. Further, using a Black man in Dante as a driving force of gentrification is a strange thing, given that historically Black neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by the practice. The movie is ultimately conservative in its messaging—through how it frames gentrification and, later, Confederates—strange for a franchise about the mutilation of the human body, a pretty apolitical topic.
On the other hand, you probably know as well as I that we are in a final girl resurgence. In updated installments of their own beloved franchises, Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott are having their cake and eating it, too, as they should after the hell they’ve been through. So it begs the question: Why even put Sally Hardesty, the only survivor of the original massacre, in this film if you were going to disrespect her the way she is disrespected?
One of the most exciting things about the new Scream and Halloween films is that they allow the wronged to avenge their friends, their family and their own hearts. Sally is simply used as a vehicle to show that Leatherface is an unstoppable force, a crudely made example that desecrates the memory of her struggle. We already know Leatherface is near unbeatable. It’s part of the DNA of the character. She could have joined the Laurie and Sidney ranks, and she should have. To the same point, it is also strange to so blatantly disrespect an iconic final girl when the film makes sure to concern itself with that stereotype in its young new female leads. A moment between Melody and Leatherface acts as a nicely framed final girl billboard. It works, but it makes Sally’s demise that much more sour. She went through the hell of it all first, and she couldn’t get the revenge—the ending—she deserved. Someone else finished the job. Speaking of, the kills of this film are fairly boring, especially thinking back to other Alvarez projects. The best and most memorable kill of the movie is Sally, and honestly, that’s sacrilege.
The other leading lady, Lila is saddled with a subplot that isn’t quite strong enough. Her character is a victim of a school shooting, and it just isn’t very realistic for her to overcome her trauma over the course of a few hours—even if she was getting brutally hunted and needed to turn on her instincts. Texas Chainsaw Massacre makes a show of Lila gaining the strength and nerve to pick up a gun because of her past—again, weird—and, sure, she can reclaim her own narrative to a degree, but the movie is so jerkily paced that it just gets lost. There’s little reason to give a character deep development in a movie like this, where the antagonist waits for no one’s personal reckoning. That energy could’ve been spent on making sure Sally Hardesty got hers.
I’d be remiss not to mention that Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t feature a whacked-out family or any cannibals, either, which is a crucial part of the dark heart of the franchise. It’s not just that it’s a chainsaw massacre, it’s that the rage is born of a foundational kinship. There is definitely rage here, though, and it plays out in the film’s one (if only slightly) redeeming element: Its ending. We get an homage to Sally’s unhinged and terrified bloody truck ride out of town in the final moments of the original (updated, of course, as another of this movie’s inescapable hangups). Despite the bummer note Texas Chainsaw Massacre ends on—for me to say more would spoil what little true fun the movie gives us—the visual is nice, and it’s one of the moments where the updated element doesn’t sour things, but adds nuance. If only Texas Chainsaw Massacre could’ve treated every component of this follow-up that way, then maybe we would’ve had something to shake a chainsaw at.
Director: David Blue Garcia
Writer: Chris Thomas Devlin
Stars: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Jacob Latimore, Alice Kriege, Olwen Fouéré, Mark Burnham
Release Date: February 18, 2022
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.