Thursday, March 6, 2014

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

I didn't even know they had made a reboot of a sequel last year until it appeared in my Netflix suggestions. Granted, I've all but vanished from the horror scene for the past year, thus leaving me out of the know in terms of emerging flicks. My first reaction was eyerolling and complaining to the invisible empathizer beside me that these studios need to leave the classics alone and stop leaning on 3D as a crutch. (Of all the reboots of the classics within the last decade or so, only Evil Dead and Carrie have come somewhat close to being mentionable.) But my scoffing was silenced by a single name: Alexandra Daddario.

Despite my only other experience with Alexandra Daddario being her stellar performance in Bereavement (a movie I highly recommend, especially for (original) Halloween fans; and by the way, when is Stevan Mena going to add to his scant repertoire?), that performance alone was enough to secure me as a fan for life. And it's more than just her aesthetic assets, which aren't to be denied; Daddario is a natural scream queen, who finds a great balance between over-the-top and the dreadfully dull Kristen Stewart type of acting. She immediately wins you over as a sympathizer without being pouty and helpless and ridiculous. The quintessential Final Girl, indeed!

OK, so, yeah, Daddario secured my viewership, and I'm sure the filmmakers took that into consideration, especially with all the the mumblings and grumblings from the horror community concerning subpar remakes of perennial classics. The next thing they did right was the opening sequence. In fact, the rest of the film is pretty much dismissible other than the first 10-15 minutes, unless you've never seen a slasher or misadventure movie before (chances are, you have if you're on this site). The opening montage uses bits from Tobe Hooper's original 1974 franchise-starting masterpiece to setup this movie's time sequence as picking up directly where the original left off. And in those opening shots, we get all the iconic visuals and sounds that seared the original's unnerving story into our minds.

Now, there is such a thing as overuse, and of those iconic visuals from the original the two most overused were the slamming shut of the metal door and the red-shorts-clad posterior shot (which wasn't honored properly in the 2003 remake, by the way; it has to be red shorts, not jeans). Sure, for most fans, the latter won't be a problem at all, but I can guarantee you will get tired of the theatrical depiction of Leatherface slamming that metal door shut. In the original, that moment when Leather face steps into the doorway, clubs the guy, drags him inside, and slams the door--that moment is one of, if not the, most chilling in the whole film. In this movie, though, it wears out quickly, and just when I thought I had silently complained about it enough, it is the last thing we see before the credits roll!

But I'm not going to write a movie off completely just because they overuse a trope from its source. It has plenty of little nods and gestures to the original that will make any fan appreciate its effort. For starters, it takes place roughly 20 years (?) after the events of the original, but the quartet of friends still drive down to Newt, TX in a slightly-newer-than-the-original VW. The transition from the events just after the time sequence of the original and present day are done very well, too. First they reuse the original's score and Polaroid-snaps two cut to the title, and then we are shown Daddario slicing meat in what appears at first to be something like a meat factory from the original. Then she walks out into a modern Food Lion-looking grocery store's meat section. Fantastic! She is then approached by her friend, played by Tania Raymonde, who gives us the performance of the trademark posterior shot. Later we find that the sheriff's last name is Hooper, which is a nice touch, and the movie has Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface)! All of these little gestures, and the ultimately hilarious song that plays as they start their trip to Texas will make any viewer smile and realize that these filmmakers are having a lot of fun.

Then its charm begins to wane. We are forced to sit through another 45 minutes or so of near parodic, cliche slasher moments, worn out subplots that are planted but never bloom, and lengthy sequences of pure time-padding to help the feature reach its requisite 90 minutes (I'm thinking of the absurdly boring and overlong scene in which an officer uses FaceTime as he  follows a trail of blood for about 10 minutes of runtime). By definition, this horror movie gives us the "library research scene" in the form of Daddario sifting through a police evidence box--so at least they spared us Daddario sitting in a library and poring over microfiche archives!

In the end, the only saving graces of the movie that make it worth watching to the end are: (1) Leatherface making and donning one of his masks; and (2) Daddario tossing Leatherface his chainsaw and saying, "Do your thing, cuz!" (best line in the movie?). The latter being a reminder that this movie is supposed to be more fun than serious, after a long middle portion of the movie being like something out of a do-it-yourself slasher-movie kit. Overall, I think the filmmakers did the best they could for a remake of a movie held in such high regard by such dedicated fans (horror fans being a bit more obsessive than fans of other genres). Most people will find plenty to love, and, again, I at least recommend watching the first 30 minutes for anyone who has seen (and appreciates) Tobe Hooper's genre-changing original.

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