Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marcus Nispel

Cast: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Belfour, Andrew Bryniarski, R. Lee Ermey, David Dorfman, Lauren German

MPAA Rating:  (for strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 10/17/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the next logical step in the evolution of the modern horror movie, and it's a tough pill to swallow. Since the slasher subgenre came along, we've been slowly moving to this point. An unstoppable killer hacks and slices, and no matter what anyone does, they are unable to kill him. Now we have a slasher movie that's more action than horror, because once the killer appears, the movie becomes one nonstop chase. It's a huge difference from the 1974 original, which relied on unease and dread as the complete helplessness of the situation began to fully reveal itself. This reinterpretation of the original admittedly gives an adrenaline rush similar to the typical successful horror film, but the sensation is the result of atypical forces at work. Whatever feeling similar to unease that results from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is better described as discomfort with gruesome imagery. Similarly, dread has been replaced with the thrill of the chase. The visceral experience of a good action movie lasts only as long as the movie itself, but a horror movie can stick with you for days. That's the primary problem with an action movie disguised as a horror movie: once the movie's over, so is the fear.

A group of five friends is traveling through Texas on their way to a concert. Erin (Jessica Biel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) are dating, but she isn't happy that part of the motivation behind their side trip to Mexico was to buy marijuana without her knowledge. Morgan (Jonathan Tucker) is the smart, shy guy who wears glasses. Andy (Mike Vogel) is the curt one who has taken quite a liking to Pepper (Erika Leerhsen), a new member of the group whom they picked up at some point on their vacation. As they drive along the lonely, dusty road, they suddenly happen upon a teenage girl (Lauren German) walking down the road in a daze. They pick her up, but she is incoherent, hysterical, and soon kills herself (why is there a shot of the camera panning through the gun shot wound?). The shocked group makes their way to the nearest town to find the police, but the nearest law enforcement agent is the drunken, perverted Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey). He's delayed for unknown reasons, so Erin and Kemper head off to a nearby house to try and call again. Unfortunately, the house is the haven of Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski), who's better known under the moniker Leatherface.

The approach of the movie is pure mayhem. Leatherface runs around, chasing his victims with a chainsaw, and although there are significant exceptions, the movie isn't necessarily bloody. Instead, it's aggressively violent and disturbingly morbid. Parts of the extended chase work, especially right at the beginning with a pursuit through hanging sheets. Eventually, the constancy becomes redundant, and the movie becomes all about something popping out when we least/most (depending on your horror movie experience) expect it.  Once Leatherface gets close enough to his victim to attack, the editing becomes frantic, and it's difficult to make out what's happening. Leatherface himself is not the vulnerable human of the original film but a relentless, invincible monster in the vein of Jason or Michael Myers, which takes away some of the thrills because of its absurdity. In the few brief breaks from the chase, the movie tries to test the audience's comfort level, and if the point of these scenes is simply to disturb, than they succeed a few notable times. Most notably, there's a set of tortuous scenes involving a meat hook during which one cannot help but at least wince a little.

All of this chaos and suffering is captured in an all-too sleek style by director Marcus Nispel and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (a complete turnaround from his gritty work in the original). It's a kind of faux atmosphere created with odd green lighting and lots of shadows. More effective, surprisingly, is the acting. The kids give decently naturalistic performances, which allow us a bit of sympathy despite the fact that there's no too much time spent with the characters before all hell breaks loose. Jessica Biel sticks around the longest, and she's effective, screaming and running with determination and genuine fright. One must question the choice of having Leatherface turn on the sprinkler system in the slaughterhouse during one part of the chase, though, and one obvious and chauvinistic reason is because Biel is sporting a white T-shirt. Although it might be to foreshadow the rainstorm that's to come, but I doubt it. Completely in tune with the tone of the material is R. Lee Emery, who manages to be simultaneously intimidating and perversely amusing.

I won't deny that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre affected me, but I will say that I'm more than a bit hesitant to state that my temporary reaction is a sign of the movie's success. Perhaps it's my fault that I'm unwilling to accept this new type of horror movie, and this review is evidence of my stubbornness. But I do know that as I was walking out of the theater, I was not watching my back or mistaking shadows for something more dangerous, and I definitely did not lose any sleep over foreboding thoughts in my mind. If that's not the sign of an ineffective horror movie, then I don't know what is.

Copyright 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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