IN THE OLD DAYS, WHEN HE WAS JUST “FACE”?
Main Cast: Vanessa Grasse and Sam Strike
Directors: Alexanre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Remember when you would watch the entire Texas Chain Saw Massacre series every year and the whole time you just kept thinking, through all SEVEN movies, “Yes, but WHY is he Leatherface? Why does he wear human skins over his face?”
No? Yeah, me neither. To me, Leatherface had just always been Leatherface, and the mystery of that particular origin only added to the mystique and danger of the character. Here’s a guy so totally bugfk crazy that he wears the faces of the people he kills like masks. I’m wit’ it.
But then one day someone DID ask that very question and then decided to attempt to answer it with 2017’s Leatherface. Screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood (London Has Fallen) decided to ask this question, and then he chose to answer it by borrowing heavily from Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings by placing young Leatherface before he was Leatherface, when he was known as Jed Sawyer, in a mental institution, and combining a whole slew of road trip movies.
See early on, Young Leatherface is given a chainsaw for his birthday and told to kill a local thief who’d been caught trying to steal a pig from the Sawyer farm. Young Leatherface takes a liking to murder and is quickly indoctrinated into the family slaughter of innocent people business. Trouble is one of his first victims, lured from the road onto the Sawyer farm, is the daughter of local Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorf, Blade), who puts Young Leatherface into a mental institution.
This doesn’t sit well with his mother/aunt, played by Lili Taylor (The Conjuring), who, ten years later, finally wins an injunction, ordering Jed’s doctor to let her see him. Well, that’s not as easy as it sounds, the doctor says. See, a lot of these kids who come to the hospital are given new names so their crazy families won’t have an easy time finding them. Taylor’s visit happens to spark a riot in the hospital, during which two inmates, Ike and Clarice, escape, taking with them three hostages. New nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse, “Roboshark”), Jackson (Sam Strike, “EastEnders”), a talkative, charming patient who acts as Lizzy’s protector when Ike starts to get a wandering eye from Clarice, and Bud (Sam Coleman, “Game of Thrones”), a huge hulk of a young man who doesn’t talk much and has quite a temper. He’s also not the brightest in the world, so Jackson acts as Bud’s protector and best friend throughout their stay in the hospital, and after.
Clearly one of these people is going to grow up to be Leatherface.
And this is both the movie’s strongest and weakest point. Obviously, all signs are pointing us to Bud. He’s big like Leatherface, he even moves like Gunnar Hansen did in the first movie. And he’s got a few scenes are that are SO trying to make you think Bud is the future chainsaw-wielding killer.
Or IS he? See, to me, this felt like such an obvious direction for the story to unfold that it couldn’t possibly be accurate. But if not Bud, then who? Ike? No, he’s got an eye on Lizzy, but he’s clearly not going to be Leatherface. Jackson? He’s the only one left, but I’ve seen all the other Chain Saw movies and Leatherface is a lumbering buffoon with the mental capacity of a ten-year-old. Can’t be Jackson. Anyway, Jackson is Lizzy and Bud’s protector, he’s NOT a maniacal cannibal.
But, dammit, that’s all the characters. The movie knows you’re trying to piece this together and figure out how the movie ends well before we get there, but you’ll never do it. The screenwriter (Sherwood) and director(s), Alexandre Bustillo (ABC’s of Death) and Julien Maury (ABC’s of Death) are going to keep you trying to figure it out until that one moment, deep into the 90-minute run time when they FINALLY give you the last piece of the puzzle and you realize what’s been going on this entire time.
Was I blindsided? More like expertly misled.
Did I mind it? Not at all. It gave my mind something to focus on while I watched the rest of this movie go by. It wasn’t a BAD movie, I just think it was a totally unnecessary one. The world is not clamoring for another Leatherface movie, especially if it’s one in which he doesn’t even get a leather face until the thing is almost over. In fact, other than THAT, I really don’t have complaints to register about this movie.
It was competently made, directed and acted. The score and effects were well-done. The look of the film was interesting to look at. Overall it should have been a hit. But it’s a story about Leatherface going from little Jed Sawyer to a chain saw swinging lunatic who wants to kill you and feed you to his family. But it’s doing it in a way that’s supposed to keep you from knowing which one of our characters is really Jed and not really letting us see his development because of this “mystery” element.
I don’t regret the 90 minutes I spent with this movie, but neither was it vital to my horror loving self that I see it. It just IS.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.