Monday, May 13, 2013

Family Reunions are Murder: TEXAS CHAINSAW (Review)

TEXAS CHAINSAW (2013)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by John Luessenhop

Starring Alexandra Daddario, Trey Songz, Dan Yeager, Tania Raymonde, Thom Barry, Paul Rae

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Leatherface has come out of retirement for Texas Chainsaw, which hits 2D DVD and 3D Blu-ray on May 14th. 

Ignoring the events of Tobe Hooper's 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, director John Luessenhop's Texas Chainsaw rewrites the grisly legacy of the cannibalistic Sawyer family for the latest film in the franchise. Following a montage of footage from the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Texas Chainsaw picks up where the original leaves off. In 1974, a posse of redneck vigilantes descend on the Sawyer house to get revenge for the butchery perpetuated by Leatherface (Dan Yeager taking over for Gunner Hanson) and the rest of his sadistic kin, including daddy Drayton Sawyer (played in cameo by Bill Moseley). The posse and Sawyer family engage in a violent shootout before the rednecks torch the entire property, killing everyone inside. Everyone, that is, except for Leatherface and his cousin, a little baby girl. As Leatherface escapes into the wilderness, the baby is discovered and illegally adopted by a couple of the mob members. She grows up as Heather (Alexandra Daddario) and is totally unaware of her horrific heritage. Now a young adult, Heather finds out that's she's inherited a house in Texas from her biological aunt. Packing her boyfriend (Trey Songz) and best friend (Tania Raymonde) and other teenage chainsaw fodder into a van, Heather makes the trip to Texas to learn more about her secret bloodline. She saws off more than she can chew, however, when she and her friends come face to (leather)face with her cross-dressing and chainsaw-wielding cousin who just so happens to lives in the dark, cavernous basement of Heather's new Texas estate.

Family reunions can be murder
After numerous sequels, remakes, reboots, and off-shoots, it's nice to see some effort being made to reintegrate the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre continuity back into the modern franchise. By using the original film and family as the basis for a modern sequel, Texas Chainsaw manages to borrow enough nostalgia cred to earn some interest, at least for a while. Attentive fans of the series will even catch a brief cameo by the original Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen early on. I was certainly intrigued by Texas Chainsaw's promise to continue the story from its original roots. How's Heather going to react to her only surviving blood-relative's morbid hobbies? Does it run in the family?

The Saw makes the Man
Unfortunately, Texas Chainsaw handles its family subplot with all the finesse of a speeding dump truck trying to make a hairpin turn. Despite the horrors she and her friends suffer, when Heather learns about the fate of biological family, she makes a bone-headed character turn that only makes sense if she were a sociopath with emotional short-term memoryEven given her family heritage, that's too much of a stretch for me to believe. In this way, the script is constantly weak and lacking in horror. Through Heather's reactions, Texas Chainsaw awkwardly attempts to make the Sawyer family into victims and cast the redneck locals as the real bad guys. Even going so far as to drop "Massacre" from the title, Texas Chainsaw further attempts to soften the Sawyer's nasty habits by tiptoeing around the element of cannibalism. There are some good gore moments and chase scenes, especially a pursuit through the woods that ends at a carnival, but Texas Chainsaw can never shake the fact that it looks like it was filmed as a TV movie, especially when the low-budget CGI blood and gore kicks in. After two sequels, a failed reboot, and a two-part modern re-imagining, Texas Chainsaw fails to bring anything new to the table in terms of shock value. It looks like the saw is getting rustier and rustier with age.

While the Saw is Family, the shotgun is a family friend.
I might be more forgiving of Texas Chainsaw's clunky script if not for the wooden acting and glaring leaps in logic. For one, the flashback to the original film is clearly set in 1974, but Heather's story line is clearly set in the modern day. Let's be generous and say that, at the most, Heather is very hot 30 years old. In order to have been a one-year-old baby in 1974, she'd have to be at least 39 today. Also, if she were stolen away as a baby and presumed dead, how could she ever legally inherit an entire house and estate from her aunt so easily? Anything new or interesting in terms of the family is complicated by these kinds of impossible-to-reconcile holes in the timeline, and everything else we see we've seen countless times before. Behind the mask, Dan Yeager simply amounts to a very bland and tired Leatherface -- although I have to admit that he's clearly trying to stay in the same vein as Gunner Hansen's Leatherface, for which Yeager should be applauded.

Premarital sex seals your doom
(clap, clap, clap, clap)
Deep in the heart of Texas.
The good news is that Texas Chainsaw is hardly the worst installment in the series; that honor will forever belong to the infamous Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation starring RenĂ©e Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. At the same time, Texas Chainsaw lacks the humour of Hooper's TCM2, the relentless horror of the original, or the sinister style of the 2003 remake. Texas Chainsaw orbits around Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: Leatherface and Texas Chainsaw Massascre: The Beginning in the realm of mostly disposable schlock best watched while passing a rainy afternoon. If you can turn your brain off long enough to ignore the giant logical holes, Texas Chainsaw is a half-way decent exhumation of the original film continuity.

Seeing an older version of the original Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw certainly feels like seeing an old friend again, but this time it's like you're seeing your friend at a nursing home. How can you not pine for the time when he was in his prime as he sits before you so tired, weak, and toothless?

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