Et tu, pause button? I thought you were my friend.
Anticipating the inevitable guts and gore and murderous mayhem, I screened Netflix’s new “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on my TV in broad daylight, with sunlight streaming through the windows and the comforting din of traffic below, and with the remote in my hand throughout, ready to hit “pause” to delay the really bad stuff.
But things dragged and I got complacent, and sure enough, that pause button was too far away when I really needed it — a truly shocking moment I did not see coming. I won’t reveal when this moment arrives, but if your plan is to be saved by your own pause button, well, good luck!
Despite that admirably executed shocker of a scene, though, the question does arise not long into this, the 10th movie in the “Chainsaw” oeuvre: Did we really need another? And sadly, given the lack of imagination, creativity or even basic attention to logic in a perfunctory and downright silly script, the answer seems a resounding “Nope.”
Unless you just want to see a lot of chainsaw killing. Because there is that.
The new installment, directed by David Blue Garcia with a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, is billed as a direct sequel to the original, meaning we’re supposed to forget the eight intervening movies. OK, done! The 1974 film, directed by Tobe Hooper, has been called disgusting and disturbing, but also a classic of the genre. The plot involved a group of young people — hippies, this being the ’70s – who happened on the remote Texas property of a troubled family of cannibals. Out came the chainsaw. Only a young woman named Sally survived.
From hippies to hipsters. In 2022, we have a group of idealistic 20-something entrepreneurs from Austin, who decide that Harlow, Texas, essentially a ghost town, is the ideal place to buy up and gentrify. They arrive to organize things just before a busload of their investors comes rolling in, ready to party.
There’s Dante (Jacob Latimore) and his girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson). And then there are the two most fleshed-out characters (pardon the pun) in the film: Melody (Sarah Yarkin), Dante’s partner in the venture, and her teen sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher) who we learn is the emotionally scarred survivor of a school shooting, (The brief scenes that reference this shooting seem gratuitous — even in a slasher movie.)
Things don’t go smoothly. Upon arrival, they enter a building they’ve bought, an old orphanage, and discover its elderly, sick caretaker (Alice Krige) lives there with “her last boy” and refuses to leave. The hipsters call the cops to force her out. Bad idea. The “last boy” is tall and scary and wears masks of human skin which is not his own.
Yup, it’s Leatherface, now played by Mark Burnham (silent but physically, um, imposing.) He’s a lot older but still has the chainsaw — in fact, it’s the original chainsaw from 1974. And he’s angry. Also, Sally (Olwen Fouéré) is still alive. She, too, is angry.
Alas, this is all you get in terms of plot — this, and some half-baked ideas that die after a few lines. Turns out — surprise! — a chainsaw is a durable instrument, and its efficacy in the hands of Leatherface doesn’t seem to have changed in 48 years.
Nor has much else. A half-century of social and technological development hasn’t made much of a mark. Yes, there’s a GPS in the car, and the young people have smartphones and Instagram. And that’s about it.
All this may still be enough for diehard fans. In any case, at least the above-mentioned smartphones create the one and the ONLY, funny moment of the movie. When the rampaging Leatherface appears with his blood-soaked chainsaw in front of a huge group of partying hipsters, said hipsters do not immediately scream or run — they take out their phones to livestream. One threatens to “cancel” Leatherface.
It’s just a silly release of tension, before what is surely the goriest scene ever filmed on a party bus. But we’ll take it (along with a blink-and-you-miss-it meta-joke from the director.) Still, if you’re like me, don’t let this loosen your grip on that remote. Soon enough, you’ll need that pause button. You may want to do a little fast-forwarding, too.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a Netflix release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for strong bloody horror violence and gore, and language.” Running time: 81 minutes. One star out of four.