Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Cast: Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Lili Taylor, Stephen Dorff
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The English language debut of French directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (who made a splash in genre circles with Inside, Livid and Among the Living), this Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel is likely to garner a mixed reaction with fans of Tobe Hooper’s original. On the one hand, the backstory feels unnecessary, since a large part of Leatherface’s horror stems from not knowing who or what is under that mask. And on the other hand, it’s a decent enough horror movie in its own right, confidently directed by a pair of genre aficionados who clearly know what they’re doing and have a few tricks up their sleeve.
The film begins at the dinner table of Texan matriarch Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), whose young sons have a habit of doing nasty things to strangers who wander into their orbit. After the latest incidence of a corpse being found on their property, vengeful Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) has Verna’s children taken into care, where they grow up in an asylum.
Several years later, four psychopaths – good-looking Jackson (Sam Strike), wired-to-the-gills Ike (James Bloor), psychotic burn victim Clarice (Jessica Madsen) and lumbering, mentally impaired Bud (Sam Coleman) – escape from the asylum, kidnapping a young nurse (Vanessa Grasse) and leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake. And when Hartman finds out that one of Verna’s children is on the loose, he vows to take them down by any means necessary.
Casting is crucial to something like this, and Bustillo and Maury come up trumps. It’s a pleasure to see Lili Taylor on our screens again, even if she is relatively under-used, while Grasse has an appealing girl-next-door quality that serves her well. Similarly, Stephen Dorff practically seethes with malevolence and Madsen and Bloor bring a suitably unhinged quality to their characters that adds a layer of tension.
However, the real surprise is Britain’s Sam Strike (he was on EastEnders, you know), who delivers both a compelling, layered performance and a flawless American accent to boot. There’s also an extra level of enjoyment to be had here if you’ve watched Iron Fist, thanks to an appearance by Finn Jones.
What’s interesting is that Bustillo and Maury are in no hurry to explore the mythology, with much of the film unfolding like a particularly deranged 1950s delinquent flick – for example, there’s a deliberately outrageous sex scene that practically falls over itself in its attempt to shock. On top of that, the film doesn’t skimp on the general nastiness, with generous helpings of gore and a handful of decent shock moments, although it never comes close to the visceral terror of Hooper’s classic.
Part of the enjoyment comes from the way the film eventually connects to the Texas Chainsaw franchise, which is both unexpected and cleverly structured. Ultimately, while Leatherface might not be the all-out terror-fest that some might have been hoping for, it delivers enough shock and gore to succeed on its own terms, thanks to savvy direction from Bustillo and Maury and a pleasingly unpredictable script.
Leatherface is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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