Nobody likes landlords these days, but we can agree that most don’t deserve to die by chainsaw. In the snippy and totally serviceable ninth sequel to the horror classic, Netflix takes a stab at “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” reviving the lumbering Leatherface from his cannibalistic slumber. The quintessential slasher villain is somewhat humanized in the latest chapter, which positions the mute giant as a mourning son avenging his adopted mother’s death. That would make the plucky young gentrifiers who kicked her out of her house the bad guys, if only they weren’t systematically severed limb from limb.
Aside from a mild commentary of mass shootings and late stage capitalism (the term even gets a shout-out), the story of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” hangs loosely around dopey characters and unsurprising plot developments. Still, it delivers plenty of blood spattered, gut-spilling gore to satisfy genre lover’s bloodlust, even if we’ve pretty much seen everything a chainsaw can do by now.
The movie opens with a group of friends driving across the wide open plains of deep Texas. At a roadside gas station, oddball Lila (Elsie Fisher) catches a crackling newscast about the masked murderer from 1973 who was never caught. “One of Texas’s most famous unsolved murders,” warns an ominous old timey voice (original narrator John Larroquette). The movie takes a page from many horror sequels by building the lore of the first film into the present day, though thankfully things don’t get so winkingly self-satisfied as the recent “Scream” redux. (Unfortunately it’s even less fun.)
Lila’s reverie is interrupted by older sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin), who hovers over the moody teenager with cloying concern. They’re traveling with her business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore) and his girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson), who have all teamed up to…buy an abandoned town in order to…open up a restaurant? They’ve managed to convince the youngest banker ever to bus a group of wide-eyed influencers and entrepreneurs out to bid on storefronts, in what Jacob hopes is “a chance for people to start fresh somewhere.” As the group spill out of their shiny car to survey the abandoned town, which made little effort not to look like a set from an old Western, they see only possibility. “This would be the perfect space for my art gallery,” Ruth marvels.
Yana Blajeva / Legendary, Courtesy of Netflix
But when they see a tattered Confederate flag hanging, they force their way into a building that appears empty. South African actress Alice Krige (“Chariots of Fire”) makes a meal of her brief scene, as the mysterious old woman who wonders why these kids are in her house. After some back and forth about the deed, Dante decides to call the Sheriff and have her removed from her home, believing her to be trespassing. In the stress of the scuffle, she loses contact with her oxygen machine and goes into cardiac arrest. The man she calls her son, a hulking shadowy figure with a familiar gait, accompanies her in the ambulance.
Meanwhile, back in old town Harlow, the auction for retail space in full swing. It wouldn’t be a B movie without some cheesy dialogue, and “Sold to Candace Brady of Brady’s Brunch! I Love brunch, that’s great,” takes the cake. The scruffy local contractor who drives a pick-up truck and flashes his gun has a few choice lines as well. He gets: “I’m a Texan. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Especially smug, self-righteous, rich city folk.” Despite all his bravado, he doesn’t end up faring too well in the end.
In fact, there isn’t a lot of successful fighting back in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which stays true to its roots but doesn’t offer much in the way of suspense. Pretty much anyone Leatherface wants to kill he does, with little fanfare. There are a few inventive slices and gouges, and it’s satisfying to see the disaffected youth live-streaming their mass execution. “Try anything and you’re canceled, bro,” says one phone-wielding dupe before quickly losing his entrails.
Though the story was developed by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues (“Evil Dead,” “Don’t Breathe”), the execution seems to have gotten lost in the handoff to screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin. Austin-based director David Blue Garcia puts his cinematographer eye to good use, constructing some striking shots that capture the beauty of his home state and a genuine love of the franchise. Take Leatherface charging across a dusty field of dead sunflowers, perfectly browned in the hot Texas sun. After he carves his surrogate mother’s face to wear as his mask, he holds it up in the light, the bloody skin glowing like burnt embers. Garcia puts the Texas in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Everything may be bigger in Texas, but the chainsaw stays the same.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is now streaming on Netflix.
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