Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

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This review was written for the festival screening of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning."

Fantastic Fest

AUSTIN -- With the question of sacrilege already dispatched in 2003 when Tobe Hooper's stark, primordial "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was happily remade as an au courant pop gorefest, the question of whether a new prequel is in a class with its 1974 forebear is a non sequitur to anyone but hardcore fans (who nevertheless will nod approvingly at producer credits for Hooper and partner Kim Henkel). Viewed as an everyday horror flick, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" gets the job done. The film should hold its own at the boxoffice without attracting those beyond the baseline audience for such pictures. Unsurprisingly, "Beginning" is designed to leave room for other installments.

We see the bleak and nasty circumstances of Leatherface's birth -- his surrogate mother discovers him in a trash bin, a good deed that will punish untold numbers a few decades hence -- and jump through his school years to find the deformed giant working in a slaughterhouse that gets condemned in 1969. After punishing his boss for a less-than-sensitive firing, the brute and his uncle (R. Lee Ermey, in full maniacal drill sergeant mode) wind up with two dead bodies to dispose of and one hungry, inbred family to feed. As Uncle Hoyt (he has assumed the identity of a sheriff he killed) tells his nephew when he sets him up at the butcher block: "Meat's meat, bone is bone."

Enter two young couples who, after a tamely lusty introduction, wreck their car and are "rescued" by Hoyt. The grisly tortures and attempted escapes are fairly stock and not as punchy as those in the 2003 film. This incarnation suffers from the absence of a Jessica Biel. Jordana Brewster is fine but doesn't rise to the level of scream queen. An acid-washed color palette and hyperactive camera also fill the genre's current expectations without rising to the previous entry's level.

The crucial absence here is humor, even for a movie that isn't chasing camp appeal. One exception is the family's first exposure to the idea of "sheriff stew": The matriarch lets out a shocked "Charlie!" We swiftly enough discover that it isn't cannibalism she objects to -- she just insists on saying grace before anyone eats.

Beyond that, the whole fear-of-obese-hillbillies device is starting to smell as stale as Leatherface's playroom. Does this horror trend simply reflect a national fear, as giant radioactive ants personified the Bomb in the 1950s? If so, maybe it's time for us all to go on a diet; America needs fresh fodder for its boogeymen.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING
New Line Cinema
Platinum Dunes
Credits:
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenwriter: Sheldon Turner
Producers: Michael Bay, Mike Fleiss, Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Mark Ordesky, Guy Stodel, Jeffrey Allard, Robert J. Kuhn
Director of photography: Lukas Ettlin
Production designer: Marco Rubeo
Costume designer: Mari-An Ceo
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Editor: Jonathan Chibnall
Cast:
Chrissie: Jordana Brewster
Dean: Taylor Handley
Bailey: Diora Baird
Eric: Matthew Bomer
Sherriff Hoyt: R. Lee Ermey
Leatherface: Andrew Bryniarski
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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