Leatherface Movie Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Released by Lionsgate
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Written by Seth M. Sherwood
2017, 90 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 20th, 2017
Sam Strike as Jackson (Jed/Leatherface)
Lili Taylor as Verna Sawyer
Stephen Dorff as Texas Ranger Hal Hartman
Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy
Nicole Andrews as Tammy
If you’ve a history as a horror buff, the name Leatherface is likely going to be instantly recognizable to you. It’s a moniker that probably triggers visions of blood and viscera, smoking chainsaws, and the sort of macabre cuisine that churns stomachs and causes moviegoers to set their popcorn aside. And, in the case of the new movie from Lionsgate, that imagery is perfectly appropriate. Leatherface is as gore infested, exploitation riddled, and horrific as should be expected of a film with such a title. But if you’re expecting another poorly executed sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you’re going to be off the mark just a tad. What it is, in fact, is a semi well-done origin story that starts with Leatherface, Jed Sawyer, as a young boy and follows him through his development and adolescence and gives us an unflinchingly violent look at what it takes to turn a basically decent young man into the maniac that he eventually becomes.
At this point, I should inform you that there might be a spoiler or two beyond this sentence, though I’ll try to keep them as minimal as possible. Leatherface opens with a (synonym for) macabre birthday party in which young Jed Sawyer is given a chainsaw and encouraged by his family members, most vehemently his mother, to use it on the hillbilly they have tied to a chair at the head of the table. And while that scene might sound plenty violent, it only escalates from there. Jed ends up being taken from his family by a vengeful marshal and placed in an asylum for troubled youths. What follows is utter mayhem, as Jed and a group of other very troubled young people escape from the hospital/prison, abducting a young nurse and making a run through the state of Texas towards Mexico, leaving chaos and bloody destruction in their wake as they’re hunted by the deranged and vengeance driven US Marshal.
So, let me tell you some of the things I thought really worked in this flick and then I’ll give you a quick breakdown on the parts that didn’t. For starters, I love violence and Leatherface is an unflinching celebration of brutality, glorifying in the spectacle of blood and viscera and all kinds of reasons to make its characters scream. It’s a not-for-the-faint-of-heart gore-fest that even had a calloused son of a bitch like me cringing from time to time. Also, the acting on the part of the younger players is pretty damn impressive. The nurse is kind of a typical final girl and her role is somewhat shallow, made obvious by the fact that she’s the only one in the group who isn’t a psychopathic criminal, but the other four more than make up for that minor quirk. The kids playing the lunatics are utterly convincing in their insanity, nailing their roles but never overplaying them. Of particular note is Nicole Andrews' portrayal of Tammy, the sociopath that delights in sex and murder.
Now, here are the few things that don’t really work, and they are surprisingly minimal given the nature of the film and its heritage. The adult actors fail completely to convince me, making me think the director blew his load on the youngsters, which, if you’re going to shoot the whole gamut at one aspect, that was the right one to choose. But Stephen Dorff’s attempt at the part of the vengeful Texas Ranger falls sorrowfully short of the Buford Pusser-style role he’s trying to pull off, and Lili Taylor, who I normally love, is so soft-spoken and wishy washy in the part of Leatherface’s mother that I have no choice but to give her the rotten egg award in this pic. When she’s urging her son to protect the family, she sounds more like she’s reminding him to pay his tithe at Sunday School than egging him on to commit acts of horrific violence.
Other than those few things, which in the scope of the overall picture are quite minor, this film really works, given my love for over the top violence and bloodshed, and I’d recommend it to any hardcore fan of exploitation horror. And that last statement’s pretty important. If you aren’t a super devoted fan of this type of film, the over-the-top brutality and gore will likely wreck your sleep patterns for weeks to come. Directors Bustillo and Maury did a fantastic job managing the visuals, and the atrocities that are perpetrated repeatedly throughout the film are vivid as can be, given precedent over any special effects or jump scare type of gimmicks. And Seth M. Sherwood did a pretty decent job with the screenplay itself. He never loses sight of the fact that Leatherface is an origin story and he keeps true to the intention of the film, showing us the influences and events that lead to Jed Sawyer becoming the villain that made Tobe Hooper’s original vision the cult classic that it is.
While I wouldn’t put it on a par with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I will say that Leatherface is a more than passing good effort at an origin story and if you’re in the mood for some good gory mayhem, I’d be comfortable recommending this flick for your lazy Saturday night distraction.