REVIEW: Leatherface (2017)

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The Sawyer legend is born in this long-awaited prequel to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in which there is a meshing of two genres of films.

In the small town of Newt, Texas in 1955, eight-year old Jedidiah Sawyer has been taken into custodial protection from deranged Texas Ranger Hal Hartman, who has implicated the Sawyer family for the death of his daughter Betty. While he can’t prove that the Sawyers were responsible, it is well enough to bring young Jed to Gorman House, a mental facility where young kids are forced to go as a means of “protection”.

Ten years later, Gorman House has a new nurse in Lizzie White, who meets three teens. Bud is a big boy who is quite strong but lacks the mental capacity. Jackson, a seemingly normal teen with angst issues at times, feels like he must protect Bud and considers the big boy his “family”. Finally, there’s Ike, a violent prone maniac who has a girlfriend in the facility, the equally crazy Clarice. While on a visit to the facility to find Jed, Verna starts a riot when she is denied her right due to a technicality from a court order. Ike and Clarice make their escape, forcing Lizzie and Jackson to go with them while Bud is owed one from Ike. As the group heads to Mexico, Hartman has gotten wind and intends to pursue them. What he will soon learn is that either Jackson, Bud, or Ike could be Jedidiah Sawyer, who will eventually find his true calling.

When it was announced that a prequel to the 1974 Texas Chain Saw Massacre was going to be made, fans felt somewhat disappointed. However, that was until it was announced that the French duo behind indie horror hit Inside were directing. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo brings the Sawyer legacy to life and with today’s horror films, does bring a bit of the gore, but not to the level of 2006’s remake-prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Instead, they knew when it was the right time and the right amount of the crimson to use when needed and thankfully relies more on practical effects rather than CGI.

A major plus in the film does lie in Seth M. Sherwood’s script. Sherwood took a wise route in bringing elements of not only the original film but adds a taste of the 1986 sequel that the late Tobe Hooper directed as well by naming one of the Sawyers “Nubbins”, after the Hitchhiker’s decomposed state in the sequel. There is also a character named “Ted” in the film, which Sherwood confirmed is the father of original Chainsaw heroine Sally Hardesty. And it is safe to say that it looks like Drayton Sawyer is actually the oldest brother of the clan from the looks of things. In addition, Sherwood’s script starts out as a horror film, then goes into a crazy road trip movie a la Natural Born Killers, before reverting back to a full on horror movie with sheer brutality.

The cast does quite well in the film as well, especially the trio of “usual suspects” with whom the viewers will have to play the guessing game “who is Jed Sawyer” or rather “who is Leatherface”? And the reason is that each of the actors brings a different personality to the table in his role. Sam Strike plays Jackson as the most level-headed of the bunch, who is a protector when it comes to big brutish Bud, played by Sam Coleman. James Bloor’s Ike may remind viewers of the maniacal Mickey played by Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers with his leading the group on this road trip from Hell with Jessica Madsen’s Clarice channeling perhaps Juliette Lewis’ Mallory. Kudos goes to young Boris Kabakchiev in his portrayal of the young Jed Sawyer in the film’s prologue, which he starts out as shy and nervous, but under the influence of Verna, knows what he must do.

Vanessa Grasse plays nurse Lizzie quite well as someone forced into a situation she never expected but knows who she can and can’t trust. Lili Taylor, who has had her fair share of horror, takes the reigns as Verna Sawyer, the crazy matriarch who is the catalyst to “rev up” (pun intended) the legacy of the Sawyers with Dimo Alexiev’s Drayton Sawyer not so much being the elder brother but more like Edwin Neal’s take on Nubbins in the 1974 original while Nubbins himself, played by Deyan Angelov, is there just to get in on some of the madness. As for Stephen Dorff’s Hal Hartman, it is understandable that he is seeking revenge or justice for the death of his daughter. However, it is clear his methods show that he is no better than the Sawyers themselves, going to extremes without a care to find what he is looking for, in this case, Jed Sawyer. There is a brief appearance from Barry Farnsworth, the family lawyer who appeared in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, as the one who informs lead character Heather of her special “inheritance”.

While the 1974 original will forever be a classic and Texas Chainsaw 3D having a true update despite some flaws, Leatherface is a solid prequel that takes the Sawyer legacy and takes a story that looks influenced by Natural Born Killers and The Usual Suspects in terms of having the audience guess who will become the titular killer. A pretty good use of practical effects and making the most of its budget and location of Bulgaria as well as some nifty performances from Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, and James Bloor make this a solid entry in the Chainsaw legacy.

WFG RATING: B

Lionsgate and Millennium Films presents a Campbell-Grobman Films production in association with LF2 Productions and Mainline Pictures. Directors: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. Producers: Carl Mazzocone, Les Weldon, Christa Campbell, and Lati Grobman. Writer: Seth M. Sherwood; based on the 1974 film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”; written by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel; and the 2013 film “Texas Chainsaw”; written by Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms. Cinematography: Antoine Sanier. Editing: Sébastian de Sainte Croix and Josh Ethier.

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Finn Jones, Dimo Alexiev, Deyan Angelov, Christopher Adamson, Boris Kabakchiev, Lorina Kamburova.

The film is currently available on DirectTV with a theatrical release set for October 20.

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