Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Between the 2018 version of Halloween, last year’s revision of Candyman, and this year’s update to Scream, the legacy sequel appears to be the hottest trend in mainstream horror filmmaking.  Rebooting iconic horror IP without disregarding the continuity of the original source material is the exact kind of “safe bet” investment Hollywood Money Men love. It simultaneously drags old customers back to the theater with a nostalgia magnet while luring in fresh-faced Zoomers with allowance money to burn.  Tobe Hooper’s grimy cannibal classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an absurdly ill-fitting candidate for the legacy sequel treatment, though, no matter how tempting it must be to cash in on its decades of name-recognition.  Nine films into the franchise, there’s still no clear continuity in either story or tone across the various Texas Chainsaw sequels & reboots.  Each individual entry is a chaotic outlier with no solid tether to the rest of the series beyond the chainsaw-wielding maniac Leatherface.  It’s also been almost a half-century since the Tobe Hooper original, which means that Leatherface and his first-one-that-got-away “final” girl would easily be pushing 70 years old in a modern-day sequel.  And that’s to say nothing of the tastelessness of dragging Sally back into Leatherface’s chow zone after the original actor who played her, Marilyn Burns, died in 2014.  The 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre recasts Olwen Fouéré (of Mandy notoriety) in the Sally role, feigning to give her the same long-awaited revenge mission Laurie Strode’s pursuing in the new Halloween cycle, only for that subplot to be treated as a callous joke with an abrupt, dismissive punchline.  That gag is poorly conceived, needlessly cruel, and ultimately just an excuse to participate in extratextual Online Discourse that has nothing to do with the movie’s central narrative – the exact three qualities that make the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre such a sickening hoot.

Besides the all-growed-up-final-girl revenge plot, another goofy hallmark of the legacy horror sequel is giving its youngsters in peril jobs that did not exist when the series originated.  Both the new Halloween and the new Slumber Party Massacre go the obvious route, unleashing The Shape & The Driller Killer to attack true crime podcasters who treat their heyday slayings as entertainment #content.  The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre goes the long way, staging a showdown between Leatherface and wealthy social media Influencers who want to transform his small Texas town into a big-city Liberal utopia – a rural cult for terminally online Zoomers.  It’s a ludicrous premise, one the film only uses an excuse to directly comment on hot topics like cancel culture, gentrification, “late-stage Capitalism”, school shootings, and the Confederate flag.  Leatherface’s new crop of victims aren’t characters so much as they’re pre-loaded Twitter talking points (even with Eighth Grade‘s Elsie Fisher doing her damnedest to perform her Culture War discourse with a genuine pathos as the new final girl).  Worse yet, the film decidedly falls on the Right-Wing side of that cultural divide, taking the positions that the Confederate flag is more a symbol of heritage than of racism, that automatic assault rifles are necessary to survival, and that today’s socially progressive youth are inherently weaker & more superficial than the rural townies they condescend to as small-minded bigots.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre only floods its small Texas town with big-city Influencers as targets for Leatherface’s chainsaw, but every single time it’s obliged to give their presence a narrative purpose, it defaults to complaining that kids today are whiny Liberal wimps – a sentiment that only gets queasier the longer it fixates on their ritualistic disemboweling once the slaughter begins.

So, to recap: the teens are annoying, the dialogue is clumsy, the themes are reactionary, and it’s all a flimsy excuse to stage 80 minutes of for-its-own-sake hyperviolence.  By those metrics, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is pretty faithful to slasher tradition, which has never had a functional moral compass, nor a reliable system of quality control.  I’d even go as far as to call it a great slasher, despite its atrocious politics.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’22 is careless when it comes to its characters, its debt to its source material’s legacy, and its broader cultural commentary, but it pours a lot of careful consideration into the craft of its kill scenes.  And since the movie is mostly kill scenes, it mostly gets away with it.  Leatherface’s chainsaw rips into a party bus packed with panicked social media addicts, tears townie challengers to chunks, and chases our new final girl through crawl space floorboards like an upside-down shark’s fin.  The violence is constant and constantly surprising, drowning the screen in so much goopy stage blood that you can hardly squint past it to see the rotten Conservative politics blurring up the background.  For better or worse, that gore-hound payoff will seal this movie’s legacy.  There will be vocal backlash against its reactionary Culture War politics for about a decade, then it’s going to be gradually reclaimed as one of the better entries in the Texas Chainsaw franchise as those talking points become 2020s kitsch.  Certainly, there are first-wave slashers from the 1980s with a more overtly bigoted, misanthropic worldview that have been reclaimed as cult classics with retrograde politics that are “of their time.”  The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is of our time in the ugliest, most gruesome way possible.  It will similarly age gracefully as an adorable time capsule of our worst present-day filmmaking & cultural impulses.  All you can really do in the meantime is enjoy the novelty of the individual chainsaw kills, of which there are plenty to indulge.

-Brandon Ledet