It certainly doesn’t do Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) any favors that it was released shortly after the fifth Scream (or 5cream as it should have been called). Nearly every “requel” (Scream’s word but we’re running with it) checkbox that is named in the discussion of tropes in that movie is hit in the newest Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and yet that’s somehow not entirely a bad thing.
The movie opens with a true crime show about the original massacre that took place in 1973, firmly placing us in the “requel” territory of franchise films that feel the need to acknowledge and attempt to continue the story of their originals. We then learn that our audience surrogate character Lila (Elsie Fisher) is on her way to an ostensibly abandoned town in rural Texas with her sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Melody’s business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore), who have bought every building in the town at a bank sale in hopes of creating a haven for restauranteurs.
Within the first ten minutes of the movie, “gentri-fuckers” is said of the group by a local and Dante quips about the “joys of late stage capitalism”. Within the first twenty minutes, the yuppies have forced an old woman and her adult ward out of their home. So TCM is also doing its best to compete with or even function as “elevated horror” (a disrespectful and harmful term that 5cream uses to describe clearly allegorical films like The Babadook and the works of Jordan Peele) by engaging in subtle as a sledgehammer social commentary.
But not satisfied to only take on the issues of home repossession and gentrification, the film also informs us that Lila has a bullet wound in her shoulder and trauma from a school shooting. And the film later includes some satire on social media, including the much discussed line about “canceling” (which is genuinely funny and clearly a joke in context). And that’s all before original final girl Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré taking over the role from Marilyn Burns who passed away in 2014) shows up with a shotgun to take down Leatherface and offers wisdom to the newcomers like “don’t run, or he will never stop haunting you”, thereby fulfilling the requel requirement to continue the original characters’ story.
Nearly all of these plot points and lines exist on a spectrum from eye roll-inducing to jaw dropping in their ridiculousness and/or pointedness. While it’s not entirely clear if all or only some (like the line about getting canceled) are playing the self-aware game that Malignant plays so well, at some point the film becomes charming in its audacity and you’re able to enjoy that these writers actually committed to putting this plot and these words on screen.
It also certainly helps that while the plot makes absolutely no sense (that adult ward mentioned earlier turns out to be Leatherface who by all rights should be over 70 and is clearly not), once the violence starts, the film gets continually better. The lean 81 minute runtime also means that violence starts early, with a delightfully gory kill that doesn’t involve a chainsaw but does involve someone being stabbed in the throat with their own snapped bone. While mileage may vary on the gore, and to be clear there’s a lot of high quality gore, in its latter half the movie largely abandons any plot beyond “there’s a scary guy with a chainsaw trying to kill us” and delivers the thrills that plot promises beautifully.
So while nearly all the writing in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is laughable (which isn’t inherently a deterrent to enjoyment), it doesn’t really matter when the film delivers on the promise of an exciting and ultra-violent slasher in its latter half. Presumably no one is watching this for its serious consideration of class and trauma in America today and instead sat down to watch young people be violently massacred with a chainsaw, and that is very much what we get.
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Texas Chainsaw Massacre may include the worst attempts at social commentary and meaningful continuation of an original story in recent horror “requels,” but is saved by some thrilling and vicious horror sequences.
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