Film Review: Leatherface

Forty-three years after Tobe Hooper's 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' changed the face of regional horror, 'Leatherface' proves that the ’saw is still family and family is a bitch.
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Directed by French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), the bulk of Leatherface unfolds in 1955, against the backdrop of hellhole mental-health facilities and idealistic nurse Lizzie's (Vanessa Grasse) first day at the Gorman House Youth Reformatory, an institution filled with damaged young people whom the state has beneficently renamed in an effort to keep the sins of their families from following them for the rest of their lives.

The young person who appears to matter, Jed (Sam Strike), is the son of  'Saw true-believer Verna (Lili Taylor), and one of several bughouse-crazy inmates who stage a bloody escape from Gorman House the day poor Lizzie checks in for her first shift. Naturally, she winds up being taken their hostage in a refreshingly low-tech breakout that rings sadly true, especially for viewers familiar with movies like Bonnie and Clyde, which sought to explore the gritty reality of rural institutions rather than the glossy legend.

Taken at face value, Leatherface—which debuted on DirecTV before being given a limited U.S. theatrical release shortly before Halloween—amounts to precious little. Yes, it's handsomely designed and respectably acted, but within the overall context of the Texas Chain Saw universe—a term that’s taken hold in fan circles—it’s just another bit of backstory that can in no way compete with the pure, unadulterated ferocity of the hints dropped in the late Hooper's seminal Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which jolted jaded exploitation-movie fans right out of their grimy seats and sent them scrambling to call their friends before the picture moved on to its next engagement.

Ultimately, Leatherface can't really stand on its own, but it hardly needs to—viewed in the context of the wide range of films that have followed Hooper's original, it adds some nice details to the canon and provides a handful of bloody jolts.

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