Texas Chainsaw Massacre director David Blue Garcia is, first and foremost, a mighty fine visual storyteller. The Emmy Award-winning director behind the remarkable Tejano who also lensed the likes of Paradise Recovered and Blood Fest, Garcia understands how effective imagery tells a story unto itself and, perhaps more importantly, he understands just how vital imagery is to the enduring legacy the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I was nine-years-old when I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a young boy staring up at a drive-in movie screen surrounded by a remarkably permissive aunt, four cousins, and a parking lot full of people who screamed at every slice and dice and who helped turn Leatherface into one of history's most feared and beloved horror icons.
I was also a nine-year-old who'd only that year begun experiencing sexual abuse, a neighbor utilizing friendship to become my own personal Leatherface. Oh sure, no chainsaws were involved but rest assured my soul was being destroyed. When I looked up at that screen, I identified with what I was seeing in ways that I still can't quite explain and that was magnified when I gasped amidst Leatherface's slaughter of Paul Partain's wheelchair-using Franklin.
Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has always been and will always likely be my favorite horror film, a simultaneously horrifying and cathartic experience relentless in its brutality yet also infused with a pitch black humor that seemed to escape a good majority of America. As someone who was living amidst my own different kind of massacre at the time, I completely got it and was thankful for it.
Garcia's Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a legacy sequel, not so much an expansion of Hooper's story as a film that takes its foundation from Hooper's artistic vision and intentions. Garcia, perhaps moreso than any other director in the Texas Chainsaw universe, understands what Hooper intended The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be.
Garcia grasps for that legacy, falling short as one would most definitely expect because it's a fifty-year later creation living in a different place and time, but so admirably going for it that there were times I audibly cheered at the screen as Garcia refused to compromise artistic integrity in favor of audience-pleasing moments and a breath of fresh air.
The story takes place in our contemporary times, many years after the events that unfolded in 1974 that destroyed Sally Hardesty's life and turned her into something resembling a pop culture ghost whose only life meaning has come from this tragedy. Leatherface, we assume, is still present because we know that true horror is always just around the corner waiting to be found. As a young boy, I was raised Jehovah's Witness and I remember knocking on one door with my usual spiel about "the truth that leads to eternal life" and coming face-to-face with the barrel of a gun with an angry man who demanded I leave his property.
Leatherface is everywhere.
Horror never dies.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens with John Larroquette's narration, a tip o' the hat to the past and an almost immediate segue to the present. It imagines a "what if." What if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really had been the true story it proclaimed itself to be? It imagines a brutalized Sally living as a survivor amidst an America that is entertained by her unfathomable tragedy that has never really gone away. In the present, we're greeted with siblings Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Lila (Elsie Fisher) and their friends Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Ruth (Nell Hudson) as they head to the small Texas town of Harlow in search of something resembling a corporate vision that the town never really asked for.
Of course, nothing goes quite as planned and soon they found themselves confronted by an awakened Leatherface, a dormant evil brought to life whose evil had, in essence, been lying in wait and then strikes when it comes knocking on his door.
It seems weird, of course, that this Leatherface could quietly exist on the fringes of this town that he haunted so many years ago. Yet, that's really the nature of horror. We know deep down that it's right around the corner, though we ignore it hoping that if we leave it alone it'll just go away.
Except it doesn't.
Garcia, working from a script by Chris Thomas Devlin, Garcia's Texas Chainsaw Massacre exists in a world that straddles past and present rather sublimely. Garcia leans into his gifts for visual storytelling, depending less upon contemporary tools of the trade and more on Olga Mekikchieva's authentic costuming and Michael Perry's atmospheric production design. Colin Stetson's original music is sublime and inspired and Ricardo Diaz's lensing for the film beautifully weaves together a tapestry of past and present.
It's in the film's final act where it truly shines, Melody and Lila's differences transforming themselves into a deep emotional resonance seldom found in indie horror films. Lila, the younger of the two and a survivor of a school shooting even before she arrives in Harlow, is easily the film's heroine of sorts and brought to life powerfully by Elsie Fisher. Garcia understands the blending together of suspense and chaos, brutality and giving a damn. Sally Hardesty is here personified by Fouéré replacing the late Marilyn Burns and doing something resembling Jamie Lee Curtis's Laura Strode as perpetual badass routine. It's effective, though under-utilized and relatively unnecessary other than the connection it provides to the past just in case we don't quite get what this is all about.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn't a perfect film and it certainly doesn't hold a chainsaw to the original film, though devotees of the original will certainly recognize a few very tangible and visual Easter eggs present in the film. Yet, there's something bold and beautiful about about this Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Garcia's faithful devotion to Hooper's legacy and intentions and a refusal to cater to an America that has never really gotten it. Relentless in its emotional and physical brutality and one of the few horror films to truly nail its ending, Texas Chainsaw Massacre may not be the icon we want it to be but it most certainly is the horror film we need it to be.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic