Monday, January 7, 2013

Texas Chainsaw 3-D

Review by Matt Finley

“The saw is family.” These words are uttered by blue-collar cannibal and American dad Drayton Sawyer in 1986's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, the first sequel to Director Tobe Hooper’s gritty and essential 1974 southern gothic slasher, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. It’s an evocative quote to be sure, but there’s no escaping how, well, inessential this and every subsequent CHAIN SAW sequel – this new one enthusiastically included - has felt.

 Maybe it’s because the series never gained the traction of other slasher franchises and has, therefore, been forced to cough and sputter through a series of increasingly staid and desperate remakes and reimaginings (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION anyone?), or maybe it’s because the original is so effective – so definitive – in its portrayal of the cannibalistic anachronisms that compose the family Sawyer, there simply isn’t anywhere else for the story to go.

Except, of course, into the third dimension!

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D, directed by John Luessonhop (TAKERS) and co-written by Adam Marcus (JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY), Kirsten Elms (BANSHEE) and Debra Sullivan (CONSPIRACY), begins with a Texas Final Cut Pro Massacre of Hooper’s 1974 film, including the iconic final shot. From there we get a single appended 1973-set scene where the police attempt to arrest Jedidiah  Sawyer (AKA Leatherface), but are interrupted by a local militia, who hoot and holler up to the Sawyer’s front door and burn the house to the soil, leaving one survivor… a baby girl.

Jump to 2012 where the cannibal-suckled tike has grown up into Heather Miller (PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTENING THIEF’s Alexandra Daddario), a requisitely busty and well-adjusted 20-something  (shouldn't she be in her late 30s?) who, until she mysteriously inherits a Texan mansion from a grandmother she didn’t know she had, was blissfully unaware of what the saw is. (Psst! It’s family!) Of course she and her friends head out to the introduced-out-of-nowhere Sawyer mansion and proceed to par-tay. And of course there’s one other Sawyer who secretly survived the 1973 fire (I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Grandpa).

This spells massacre for a small town now run by Mayor Burt Hartman (TRUE GRIT’s Paul Rae), who, coincidentally, led the 1973 militia attack on the Sawyers.

This movie isn’t good.

Heather’s arc is predictable from scene 1, and while there’s some fun gory chaos during an admirably paced ten-minute sequence in which the film is content to be a passable, nostalgic A- to-B slasher, it quickly scraps the giddy hacks in favor an interminable storyline that tortures out the family rivalry between Sawyers and Hartmans.

This sucks for a few reasons.

First, the 3-D is pointless as ever, and used as unartfully as possible.

Second, though portrayed as a direct sequel to the 1974 film, it’s really only a sequel to its own half-baked retroactive continuity. The insipidness is heightened by an endless series of references to and narrative retreads of the original, from the dead armadillo to the contents of the freezer chest.

Third, while a family rivalry plot isn’t conceptually anathematic, there are only two members of each family around to fuss and feud: on the Hartman side, you’ve got mouthy, swaggering Texan stereotype Burt and his barely present son, and on the Sawyer side – a side that, in past films, has given us the twitchy, plate-pated Chop Top, grotesque, hammer- flopping Grandpa and self-mutilating Nubbins – we have a perky 23-year-old who wore a midriff shirt to an estate settlement and a mute, mentally challenged recluse (it’s Leatherface… you guys knew it was Leatherface, right?).

In prior entries, even when the Sawyers have been presented as clear antagonists, there have always been members of the family capable of voicing perverse, startlingly coherent justifications of their lifestyle, which have ranged from explicit desperation in the wake of capitalist concerns mechanizing the slaughterhouse, to the implicit impact of highway rerouting and the draft. In CHAINSAW 3-D, however, all of the larger ideological issues that made the Sawyers a unique and terrifying dark mirror for the modern American experience are relegated to footnotes so a throwaway revenge storyline  thematically limited to an infantile indictment of mob justice can take center screen.

In an age when conservative parties are waging a war on civil rights based on the perceived sanctity of the American family, a savvy reexamination of the whole cross-dressing, death -worshipping, cannibalistic Sawyer clan could be as incisive and terrifying as Hooper’s original Vietnam-era horrorshow. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D certainly doesn’t deliver on this or any other potential. (1 ½ out 4 stars)

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