Welcome to the sun-kissed terrains of rural Texas, circa the mid 1950s.
Buried deep in the heart of the countryside is the Sawyer farmhouse, which is governed by its take-no-shit family matriarch Verna (Lili Taylor). We first meet her and the rest of her clan - including, crucially, Grandpa (Eduard Parsehyan) and the youngest member of the family, pre-teen Jed (Boris Kabakchiev).
It's the latter's birthday and the whole family are gathered around their dinner table to celebrate. At one end of the table sits a neighbour accused of stealing pigs from the Sawyer's farm. Despite the man's protestations to the contrary, he remains bound to his seat and shivering in anticipation of whatever may happen next. What actually happens next is that the family present Jed with his birthday present - a chain saw - and suggest he breaks it in by using it on the offending neighbour.
Alas, Jed is visibly disturbed by the thought of inflicting pain on this man and thus incapable of connecting his saw to flesh (despite his father pushing the blade into the man's leg at one point). So it's left to Grandpa to finish off the so-called thief with his trusted hammer.
We then leap ahead to a summer's day, where we find young lovers Ted (Julian Kostov) and Betty (Lorina Kamburova) driving down a rural lane one afternoon. Spying something odd lying in the middle of the road, Betty ignores her boyfriend's pleas to let it be and gets out to investigate. The object rises to its feet and we realise it's Jed, wearing a pig's head over his own visage. He stumbles away, giving Betty the impression he's injured and in need of help. Giving in to her good nature, she follows him through a neighbouring cornfield and towards an oversized farm barn. Unsurprisingly, Betty has been lured there under false pretences ... and an ugly fate awaits her.
A few hours later, the cops turn up at the Sawyer farm to investigate what the family are attempting to pass off as an unfortunate, albeit grisly, accident. No-one's convinced that Betty's death was as innocent as the family claim, as they're renowned locally as being unhinged. Less convinced than anyone else is Betty's dad, sheriff Hal (Stephen Dorff). He's certain his daughter has been murdered and wants revenge. Unable to open fire on the family in front of his fellow lawmen, he does at least have the power to insist Jed is taken into custody.
Jed is duly placed into the Gorman House Youth Reformery, a mental institution for young offenders.
Fast-forward ten years and we're introduced to rookie nurse Elizabeth (Vanessa Grasse), who's just started working at Gorman House. We're aware that Jed is among its inmates, of course, not least of all because Verna still visits the institute on a regular basis trying to overrule an injunction preventing her family from visiting their youngest member. Rejected outright upon her latest appeal, Verna kicks off while exiting the building - affording the inmates the opportunity to riot and force an escape.
Elizabeth is inevitably swept up in the commotion. Fortunately, she's bonded somewhat with handsome young lag Jackson (Sam Strike). He promises to keep her safe as the pair are taken hostage by the more openly demented inmate lovers Clarice (Jessica Madsen) and Ike (James Bloor).
As Elizabeth's nightmare escalates while her captors attempt to stay one step ahead of the law and simultaneously spread mayhem, Hal gets win of the breakout and determines to find Jed in a bid to exact his revenge once and for all.
LEATHERFACE is a prequel to Tobe Hooper's seminal 1974 classic THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Now, you may be thinking "hang on, didn't we already get a sequel in the form of 2006's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING?". Well, yes we did. But Seth M Sherwood's screenplay ignores that film - and, for that matter, Marcus Nispel's 2003 remake of Hooper's original. Alas, that's probably the only wise decision (along with ditching the unwise gimmick approach adopted by 2013's shitfest TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) this film makes.
It's a shame. Largely because LEATHERFACE's co-directors are Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the French filmmakers who burst onto the scene in 2007 with the muscular, gory INSIDE. Their follow-up films LIVID and AMONG THE LIVING have been less successful but still demonstrated enough style and energy to suggest these guys could impress with a decent budget behind them. But LEATHERFACE is their lease satisfying effort so far, completely devoid of creativity or menace.
The cast are attractive and proficient but their characters and dialogue are hackneyed one-dimensional types: good ol' Southern boys; hardened lawmen with grudges to bear; dominant matriarchs ... Sherwood's script does the film's cast, or its filmmakers, little favours.
Likewise his screenplay, which moves machine-like through the motions, taking a familiar premise and proffering no diversions or surprises en route to its wholly anticipated finale. Any hopes of Sherwood taking the opportunity to comment on correctional facilities being a breeding ground for criminal insanity, or perhaps noting how the institute's "family" has a similar nurturing drive akin to the Sawyer clan's, are sadly unexplored. And if you're looking for a satisfactory insight into how Jed grew into the ruthless chainsaw-wielding killer of subsequent movies, forget it. There isn't any.
There is, however, a "twist" in store ... but more astute readers have probably already sussed it. Anyone else is sure to have it nailed within the films first half.
The film's predictability accounts in large part for its lack of suspense. But so does its warm, polished aesthetics: they're far too sanitised to convince as raw, aggressive horror in the vein of Hooper's unkempt progenitor. This slick sheen, coupled with the clunky screenplay mechanics and by-the-numbers characters, render LEATHERFACE as quite a tedious affair. Even the gore FX (a mix of practical and digital work) are uninspired and soon forgettable.
We were sent an online screener of LEATHERFACE for review. The pin-sharp presentation served Antoine Sarnier's warm, colourful cinematography well. Preserving the original widescreen ratio and exhibiting a convincingly cinematic depth to its visuals, there was nothing to grumble over here.
Likewise, the clean and consistent 2.0 English audio was a tantalising proposition.
LEATHERFACE looks and sounds great. Naturally. But it's a redundant story, unneeded and unwanted. Furthermore, it's told in a disappointingly perfunctory manner by co-directors are capable of so much more.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment|