Screamfest 2017: Leatherface (2017) FILM REVIEW
Directors: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, Vanessa Grasse, Finn Jones, Nicole Andrews
Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
*1/2 out of *****
Texas Ranger Hal Hartman, played by Stephen Dorff, finds himself on the wrong end of the chainsaw in LEATHERFACE.
It's been over forty years since the late, great Tobe Hooper's iconic masterpiece of a horror film terrified audiences the world over. In his unflinching account of a family of cannibals in Texas, he introduced the world to Leatherface, a hulking, intimidating, some may say misunderstood, killer who wears masks made of human flesh and wields a bloody chainsaw. Over the decades THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and its characters have lived on in numerous sequels and has been remade which in turn spawned its own prequel. Speaking of prequels. Now comes LEATHERFACE. The film is presumably meant to be a prequel to the 1974 original film and has no connection to the remake's universe. Unfortunately this new film has a rather threadbare connection to the original film and it proves to be a massive disappointment.
As the prequel opens we are provided a little tease during the film's pre-title sequence where we first meet the Sawyers in 1955. It's a rather intriguing opening that makes you wonder how this boy will ultimately turn into the man with the saw. The film then jumps ahead ten years and turns into a rather unfocused mess. For a film that is suppose to be about the origins of the titular character it spends a surprisingly vast amount of time with other characters. 90% of the film tries to focus on how Leatherface became who he is but none of it is convincing nor effectively conveyed or portrayed mostly because most of that time is spent with other characters. The other 10% where Leatherface finally emerges feels more like fan service. Far more disconcerting is that every character is one-dimensional even the one who would ultimate become Leatherface.
The three most recognizable names in the cast belong to Stephen Dorff, Finn Jones and Lily Taylor. Dorff plays Texas Ranger Hal Hartman a lawman bent on revenge after his family has a tragic encounter with the Sawyers. There are things his character does that are so far out of left field you'll likely ask why and how he got to where he is but reasons are never provided. It just doesn't make sense. Dorff is a solid actor when given the right material, he was awesome as Deacon Frost in BLADE (1998), and he does what he can with the part but ultimately it's a forgettable character and fails to make a lasting impression like Dennis Hopper's "Lefty" from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2. Finn Jones appears in the thankless role of Deputy Sorrel. Anyone could have played this part yet for some reason Jones took it and unfortunately for him it doesn't reflect kindly upon his acting ability. Unconvincing pretty much sums it up. Lily Taylor is shackled with portraying the matriarch of the Sawyer family Verna Sawyer. As great of an actor she is there isn't much she can do with the part other than play her as a twisted and manipulative windbag which she does. What about Leatherface? Well, let's just say that the part was sorely miscast and that is an epicly profound understatement.
The screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood fails to grasp the long history that this franchise has already laid out. What could have been a profound, uneasy and disturbing psychological horror movie which follows a life from innocence to madness to murder is replaced by a plodding and uninteresting mystery full of misdirection and forgettable characters. Probably the greatest disappointment is that the film is the first American feature for directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo; they previously directed a segment in ABCs OF DEATH 2. The duo wrote and directed the very unsettling French horror film INSIDE. By comparison this film is so far out of its league that it comes off as a huge step in the wrong direction. As accomplished as they are they are unable to recreate the atmosphere and mood which permeated Hooper's films.
LEATHERFACE not only fails to provide an interesting origin for this iconic character it misses the mark as a stand alone film. If someone went into this not knowing a thing about the previous films or characters they'll likely dismiss it and it will have been forgotten by the time they get home from the theatre. Undiscerning horror fans may find something to latch on to and enjoy but hardcore fans of the franchise and the title character may find it rather pointless and uninspired.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal