Boy, was I excited for Leatherface. Like, I wanted this movie to be the best damn horror movie of 2017. I hoped—crossed my fingers and prayed—Leatherface would reinvigorate the franchise, ushering it into a new, bloodier and more visceral era. That thrill was due to two people—Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. They’re the French directing duo behind Livid, Among the Living and, my favorite horror/bloodbath movie, Inside (À l’intérieur).
When I’d learned Leatherface had Bustillo and Maury at the helm, I got excited. Inside, their 2007 New French Extremity movie entry is a visceral and bloody home (uterus?) invasion thriller that has a high body count and enough blood to make the Red Cross jealous. So, knowing their penchant for gore, I thought their first English-language movie being a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would deliver a masterpiece.
But Leatherface did not have the smoothest ride to release. After the film was completed, reshoots were ordered and then the movie sat on a shelf, its release delayed. These two things don’t mean a film will be bad, but together they rarely bring good news. As excited as I was, I felt a fair amount of apprehension that Leatherface wasn’t going to be the movie I wanted.
My biggest gripe is its script. The movie follows a teenage Leatherface’s escape from an asylum with three other inmates as they try to head to Mexico. What follows is a big slap in the face to audiences with a massive misdirection that takes all the air out of the story’s good faith it builds. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get.
The script misses a lot of great opportunities that would have delivered a satisfying Leatherface origin story. Scenes with the Sawyer family, the demented members of which are just as crazed as they are in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, are but brief, though enthralling, bookends in the movie. Leatherface’s mother Verna (Lili Taylor) is a scheming, murdering psychopath that gives her son a chainsaw for his birthday, instructing her son to murder a trespasser, and pays off corrupt cops for information before feeding them to the pigs. I wanted more of this.
Instead, we get the majority of the film following escaped asylum patients and a kidnapped nurse through the Texas backwoods, focusing on the wrong characters and expecting a payoff that never comes. However, for as much as I despise the story, Bustillo and Maury do deliver their grotesque and gory aesthetic in a beautifully shot package that is supported by terrific acting. Stephen Dorff plays the wonderfully deranged Texas Ranger Hal Hartman. Taylor makes Verna Sawyer a creepy ghoul of a woman, and Coleman gives an excellent performance as Bud.
As one comes to expect from Bustillo and Maury, there is a fair amount of blood and gore, though it is throttled back when compared to Inside. The climactic chainsaw scene is especially satisfying, and when things do get violent, it’s beautifully shot. There’s blood, and it looks great.
If anything, Leatherface is just a disappointment. It’s a film that could have done great things for the franchise’s lore but is instead marred by a sub-par script. I hope Bustillo and Maury give an English-language movie another shot, preferably with a script they’ve penned.