Leatherface. 2017. Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury. Screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Finn Jones, Lili Taylor, Nicole Andrews, James Bloor, Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, Vanessa Grasses, Simona Williams, Christopher Adamson, Julian Kostov, Jessica Madsen, Boris Kabakchiev, Ian Fisher, Velizar Peev, & Dejan Angelov.
Campbell Grobman Films/LF2 Productions/Lionsgate
Rated R. 90 minutes.
There’s a lot to live up to for this movie. I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely into the idea at all, in any way when it was first announced. Once I found out the French filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury were directing, I was sold. Their brand of horror is efficient, creepy, often brutal and raw. Perfect to try handling an entry in the ever expanding franchise of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Leatherface is an interesting film. Its screenplay, by Seth M. Sherwood, fits in as a prequel to the original Tobe Hooper classic, directly, though liberties are taken in a fresh way to make the character of Leatherface and his family feel new. What the audience winds up with is a road movie, slasher-style, a Texas Chainsaw horror with a bit of mystery as to the identity of who’ll later become the iconic killer himself.
What’s best is that beneath the horror are questions of identity. The origins of the character are changed, just a touch. The core remains the same. The saw is still family. We’re just given a new look at how a horrific serial killing maniac like Leatherface can come about, giving horror fans an entirely different yet still familiar glimpse of the Sawyer clan and what makes the infamous killer tick.
“I wish I was somebody else“
At its core, Leatherface explores how the character could become a killer in a real life, gritty family situation. Whereas the original, played by the gloriously brutal Gunnar Hansen, was a mentally challenged man who turned into a psychopath, this Bustillo and Maury film explores a story where a relatively sane child grows up in a harsh, terrible environment, whisked away by the government to an equally dismal, institutional setting where his worst urges are only buried with corporal punishment/abuse and medication, then experiences events which ultimately diminish his mental capacity.
The main theme is identity. A fracture occurs in the killer that’s irreversible. Leatherface goes from a boy taken from his family to, later, a young man who’ll do anything for his family, including things he wasn’t capable of before. He grows, yet in a way he fractures and becomes a smaller, more primitive version of himself.
While Mama (Lili Taylor) gets a big place in the warped psyche of her killer son, Dorff’s cop character also plays a role in his identity. He’s hellbent on revenge for the death of his daughter at the hands of the Sawyer clan. He stamps all the family as killers, depraved lunatics. This puts the boy who’ll transform into Leatherface in a psychiatric facility, fermenting the parts of him that’ll turn psychopathic down the road. The renegade cop further plays his role in being the one to tear up Leatherface’s boyish good looks, necessitating the need for a mask. And, boy, is the first mask ever a crude one, perfectly fitting in a utilitarian sense.
“What‘d I tell you about outsiders? They fill your head with lies“
Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my all-time favourite movies, horror or otherwise. Its impact on horror and the indie film industry as a whole is undeniable. What I enjoy here is that Leatherface doesn’t try to reinvent every last little bit. Sherwood’s screenplay opts for a few of its own unique additions, though the central aspects of Hooper and his film remain, as well as his and Hansen’s original vision of who Leatherface was meant to be, a faceless man with only the identity imprinted upon him by his family, by killing.
If you don’t want a backstory, then don’t watch a prequel. Simple as that. This story is definitely interesting. It’s got plenty of good gore, some intense horror movie kills expected of a film in the Texas Chainsaw franchise. It doesn’t retread all the same ground, giving us a change from the archetypal view of the film’s antagonist as a mentally challenged man gone homicidal. I love the original character, but I also love this one. On top of it all there are several wild scenes, including a horror-style Pulp Fiction moment in a diner, the origin of Leather’s mask, a quick tour around the Sawyer house, and one brutish kill at the end.
Watching and wondering which character will later become Leatherface is a blast, the reveal isn’t necessarily altogether unexpected by the end. Although how they give the audience that final treat is fantastic. In between is a horrific road movie that plunges the depths of the tortured human soul.
Give this a chance and Leatherface, he’ll get under your skin.