Saturday, September 30, 2017

Raising Sawyer: Leatherface (2017)

Leatherface (2017)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Finn Jones, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor

A few months ago, I recall writing about my uncertainties with the then-upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel simply called Leatherface, a concept that kinda looked pointless to me since I really don't see the need for one, nor do I believe many people were even asking for it. Still, the higher powers above (as in probably the executives at Lionsgate) managed to wrangle up horror director duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, famous for their slashers Inside (2007) and Among The Living (2011), to direct the project so should this merit enough attention and probability that it'll be good?

Yes. But all for the misleading reasons.

The film opens with a circa 50s Texan farming family celebrating their youngest member's birthday. The family is quickly made clear to be our infamous Sawyer clan as they ask one teenage Drayton to serve the first slice of their (oddly chunky and sinewy) "cake" to their unexpected guest: a bruised and tied up thief. As both a bloody rite of passage for the birthday boy, Jed, and punishment for the thief for stealing some hogs, matriarch Verna Sawyer hands the kid the family chainsaw and coaxes him to slice the man open. Jed's a tad too squeamish on killing, however, prompting grampa Sawyer to finish the job with a sledgehammer.

Sometime later in a morning, a young teen couple was driving by the Sawyer property when they swerves to a stop after nearly running over an odd looking calf in the middle of the road. The situation goes eerie when girlfriend sees that the animal is really Jed wearing a cow's head for a mask and, after the childs bolts off into the fields and much to her boyfriend's protests, she follows to check if the boy's alright. Of course, the whole jig was a trap to murder her and, needless to say, the Sawyer boys made a quick killing out of the girl with a dropped tractor engine.

Unfortunately, the girl just happens to be Texas ranger Hal Hartman's daughter and though he cannot charge the boys for murder without any proof, he did manage to accuse Verna of child endangerment, which ends up with Jed being taken off her hands and into an asylum.

Ten years after this, at the Gorman House Youth Reformatory, newbie nurse Lizzy enters the facility in hopes of making a difference for the crazies, especially the children. Easier said than done though as some of the institutionalized are violent deviants, but she remains slightly optimistic as she did encounter some kinder nut cases, more precisely one troubled but caring Jake and a huge bipolar Bud.

That night, all hell breaks loose when Verna walks into the asylum, demanding to see Jed. As it turns out, she scrapped enough money to buy a lawyer and paperwork allowing her to check up on her boy, but when the head of the institution refuses, she decided to get even by unlocking the doors and releasing all of the patients in a murderous frenzy while she looks for her son. Out of the carnage escapes murderous thug Ike and his equally insane girlfriend Clarice, who tagged along Bud (who saved Ike from an electroshock session) and kidnaps Lizzy and Jake as leverage.

Now, this is where the movie is supposed to work its little gimmick; technically, one of the three boys here is supposed to be Jed Sawyer, heavily treated to the point that he doesn't remember who he was and brainwashed into believing an alternative ego. This is a fine game to play and all but the execution itself doesn't seem to be anywhere that interested playing it with us.

Truth be told, the so-called mystery of who will become our infamous chainsaw-wielding Leatherface isn't that strong, with the only connections this film made with the slasher franchise was the "Sawyer" name, the bone furniture and decorations at the last act of the film, and that one scene before the ending credits where Jed, reunited with his family, making his first mask, all of which making up a third of the film. Instead, throughout the movie, we watch Ike and his girlfriend rampage through rural Texas with a killing spree and other devious activities (like necrophilia. eugh), all the while Jake and Lizzy repeatedly attempts to escape them and a murderous posse of police, and Bud simply just stands there being a lumbering oaf who follows orders, if not being mistreated for being, well, an oaf. In fact, one would have guessed that once the word broke out that some mental nuts who may or may not include Jed Sawyer escaped, Verna and her clan will get out there and start joining the hunt in hopes of getting their youngest member back, but nope; the Sawyers simply sit back at their old barn feeding pigs murdered victims and just waiting for Jed to magically find his way back home, only doing something after one of the more snitchy cops decided to tell on them.

This meant that, among all of the movies in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Leatherface felt a bit forced as a prequel and the least like a slasher, or a horror movie for most of its parts, and more of a very violent crime drama in the vein of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005) or even Natural Born Killers (1994), complete with a vengeful law enforcer who's out to get Jed and make him pay for killing his daughter, doing (and himself murdering) whatever he can just for that chance. Cut off Leatherface's ties with the Texas Chainsaw franchise and it could have been an original thriller of its own in-movie universe. (Heck, if I remember it right, Drayton didn't find killing all that fun and prefers to be in the kitchen in the 1974 movie. Maybe he figured that out later in his adult life?) Now, does this make it a terrible movie?

Well, to be fair, there is enough horrific imagery and chaotic madness to satisfy some viewers, that I can tell. It's nothing new given the comparison I've made between this and Rob Zombie's opus The Devil's Rejects, but Leatherface has to be commended for capturing the gritty 70s grindhouse exploitation feel, highlighting violent crimes and abusive authority figures as a mean to scare, if not upset us, and it still knows its slasher roots to deliver enough bloodshed and bodycount for those eyeing for something red and sticky.

The film's copious amount of murdering are done away with impressive practical effects, though it is noticeable that the murders have a tendency to stick more along a realistic tone from simple strangulation and beatings, to violent shootings and stabbings, all committed by a series of people against one another rather than by a single killer. (or cannibal group acting as one) Those who are expecting a series of chainsaw deaths would be disappointed (or not) as those were reserved to the very last act of the film. Those scenes did made decent slices of human meat but a bit lacklustre seeing how the boy who ended up being our Leatherface doesn't look anywhere as threatening or impressive.

Instead, the threat factor goes to Ike and Clarice, whose vulgar and sadistic nature made them more interesting villains than the Sawyer clan and the vengeful sheriff combined, showing no boundaries on their crazy, nor any remorse on the crimes they commit. I even would go and say that these screwed-up lovebirds could go toe-to-toe with the ranks of Natural Born Killers' Mickey and Mallory on the crazy couple category if given the chance but, seeing the supposed focus of the movie is a pre-TCM Leatherface, their unrestrained craziness made it too obvious that one of them ain't Jed, thus giving them the same odds of being killed off as the rest of the casts. (Who were pale in comparison to these two, this including Lizzy, our supposed final girl who does very little to get herself out of this nightmare. Not a good sign, people.)

With a decent looking production value and edgy plot flow, Leatherface is a half way decent movie for those who loves bloody crime thrillers and horror fans who are open to out-of-the-box ideas in their movie franchises. I guess the point of this movie being a prequel to the Southern fried classic proto-slasher gave it enough open probabilities to do more than just another slasher movie and I respect that, but I guess I've seen (and re-watched) enough "on the run and on the road" serial killer flicks to feel this film's approach to be predictable and underwhelming. Still, don't let me stop you from trying this movie out, but keep the expectations low for any prize winning "barbecues".

1 male brained with a sledgehammer
1 female crushed by a dropped tractor engine
1 male strangled and punched on the head, killed (?)
1 male pounded to death (?)
1 female strangled with her own hair
1 male beaten dead through a window
1 male beaten to death
1 female repeatedly slashed on the mouth with a razor
1 male stomped to death
1 wheelchair bound victim thrown through a window, falls to their death
1 male stabbed on the neck with a steak knife
1 male shot
1 male shot on the head
1 female shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male found hanged dead and rotting
1 male had his head stomped against a tree stump
1 female shot on the head
1 male shot on the head
1 male beaten to death against a car door
1 male repeatedly knifed, fed to pigs
1 male eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 female decapitated with a chainsaw
Total: 22 (?)

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