The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been done so many times Leatherface's blades have worn dull, and with each subsequent film what worked about Tobe Hooper's genuinely creepy and original 1974 film fade further into the distance. For what is now the seventh film in the franchise, the title gets truncated down to simply Texas Chainsaw, and that's really all you need to know about where director John Luessenhop is coming from. The franchise hasn't gone stale, so don't bother trying to fix anything there. Just shorten the title to make it cooler and fresher.
He couldn't have been more wrong, as Leatherface has never been less terrifying or less interesting than he is now. The film starts off promisingly after the events of the first film, with a well-staged shootout between the infamous Sawyer clan and a vigilante group of rednecks down in Newt, TX. The opening gun battle is actually quite a lot of fun, and Luessenhop films it with grimy, grindhouse lens that he probably should have kept for the long haul. In 3D these scenes are far more effective than the glossy stuff that follows, which only serve to make the film look like just another throwaway slasher.
Years after the tragic events in Texas have seemingly left no Sawyer clan survivors; we're introduced to Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who learns out of the clear blue sky that she has a grandmother she didn't know about. Her parents, suddenly a pair of douchebags, admit to having adopted her as a baby, and Heather heads down to Newt with her boyfriend(Trey Songz), slutty best friend(Tania Raymonde), and a couple of random dudes to claim an inheritance.
You can probably figure out what happens from there as things get sharp and bloody real fast. Or, at least that's what one might expect, except that Texas Chainsaw is more bluster than actual action. Heather discovers that she's now the owner of a huge mansion, which would probably sell like gangbusters on the market if it didn't come with a 6' 5" hulking chainsaw killer living in the basement. Of course he gets free and makes short work of all the expendable characters, but there's little inventive about the way he does it. More importantly, there's very little menace to it all. Leatherface is one of the most interesting movie slashers around, but here he's little more than a lumbering oaf. His defining trait other than his choice of weapon is his ripping off a victim's skin and wearing it as a mask. It's a creepy attribute to have, the stuff of nightmares, but even when the opportunity presents itself very clearly in the film, it's never used to its full potential. When Leatherface runs amok in the midst of a packed carnival, you expect there to be fountains of blood and body parts spraying everywhere. Do we get anything close to resembling that? Hardly, just a lot of Heather hanging off of Ferris Wheels and Leatherface looking ineffectual. Was this rated PG-13 and somebody not told us?
The same could be said about a lot of things, however. Luessenhop knows all of the basics, from the Polaroid quick-flash jump cuts to the ass-cam tracking shots (Raymonde really shines at these moments), but he fails at creating a sense of mood and atmosphere. Daddario is excellent as Heather, however. She's got the makings of a classic 'Scream Queen", tough and vulnerable when called upon. She's a damn sight better than Songz, who only seems to be around to lure in women who want to see him topless. He has about as emotion as the carcasses rotting away in Leatherface's sanctum, and at one point is firmly out-acted by a pool table. Sticking to lame R & B songs might be the wisest course for his career.
The story takes a surprising twist that does hold some promise for the future, but maybe that's just because the rest of the film was so boring. Anything would have to be an improvement, which in the past has been all the encouragement needed to whip up another sequel. Hopefully smarter heads will prevail, and Leatherface can hang up his chainsaw for good.