Texas Chainsaw Massacre is yet another forgettable series entry, distinguished only by its lame attempts at social relevancy.
When David Gordon Green revived Laurie Strode for 2018’s Halloween, he updated her character with the most shallow, pop blockbuster take on PTSD possible, turning her into a gun-toting survivalist intent on shooting Michael Myers. Cycles of violence brought on by trauma were nothing new in slasher movies, or even the Halloween series itself, but Green’s film played it to callously heroic ends, granting Laurie triumph over Michael thanks to all her guns and traps. The success of that film practically guaranteed this model would be used for other new sequels to horror classics without consideration of how much sense it makes for other characters. Sure, it might be reasonable for Haddonfield-bound Laurie to hole up with a shotgun and wait for the night that Michael came home again, but what about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Sally Hardesty who wasn’t attacked in her hometown?
David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, yet another much gorier and infinitely less frightening horror sequel, imagines that Sally’s post-massacre years were spent hunting Leatherface in law enforcement. Finding the man whose face and name she’s never known has apparently proven a difficult task and Sally — now played by Olwen Fouéré in the absence of Marilyn Burns (who passed away in 2014) — doesn’t find her prey until a new group of teenagers disturb Leatherface in his new ghost town digs, forcing the villain out of retirement John Wick style — seriously, he takes a sledgehammer to a wall to retrieve his hidden chainsaw. But where Laurie Strode is a major figure in the new Halloween to the detriment of new characters, Sally is hardly a character at all, her life since the first film reduced to the shotgun in her hands and utilizing her as nothing more than an armed nostalgia trip. The decision to so limply trot her out is ultimately too minor to tank the film on its own, but her inclusion is indicative of the type of empty-headed decision-making that led to the rest of the film.
Somehow more shallow and callous than Sally’s trauma narrative is that of the film’s teen protagonist, Elsie Fisher’s Lila, a school shooting survivor dragged to a ghost town in Texas by her trendy restaurateur sister. Her sister and her business partner have driven in a busload of investors to turn the town into a hipster hot spot, auctioning off the abandoned buildings to rich city kids. Both Lila’s backstory and the gentrification angle are the film’s attempt at social relevance, replacing the original’s subtext with loud but empty gesturing that ultimately borders on heinous. Lila, the only character with any sort of narrative arc beyond being chainsaw fodder, spends the movie overcoming her issues with gun violence — whenever she sees a gun, she has a flashback to her dead classmates — so that she can triumphantly pick up a gun herself because this movie can only imagine the inner life of a survivor in violent, retributive terms, celebrating a cycle of violence in place of genuine insight into trauma. But somehow Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s attempt at contemporary social commentary is best represented by the film’s unambiguous low-point, where a busload of soon-to-be victims aim their phone cameras at Leatherface and threaten to cancel him. It’s a textbook example of the sort of human behavior that only exists in the minds of writers who think they’re clever.
Without these stupid jokes and lame pretensions, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a lean, bloody movie, running only 83 minutes and getting to the gore within the first 20 of those. None of it is particularly inspired — there’s one memorable kill involving a compound fracture — but underneath its most annoying trappings, this is just another bad Texas Chainsaw sequel in a long line of many, destined to be forgotten just like the rest of them.