Review: 'Texas Chainsaw 3D' Runs On Fumes

There’s something to be said for the difference between lurking and leering. When Tobe Hooper shot his characters from low angles and behind in 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” it was an ominous device that built on the tension of knowing that these unwitting youths were fated for a whole heap of trouble. When John Luessenhop attempts to follow suit in 2013’s “Texas Chainsaw 3D” -- in the first of many would-be tributes -- the angle’s just that much lower, the women’s shorts that much shorter, the approach more faux-titillating than stomach-knotting.

Hell, even the hitchhikers have to be hunky and half-shirtless these days.

Just about everything else in this purported “direct sequel” to the original has a similarly juvenile sensibility: the cleavage, the carnage, the continuity. What you need to know (and even that’s debatable) is that the story picks up immediately after the first film, forsaking its three sequels, the 2003 Platinum Dunes remake and their 2006 prequel. It turns out that Leatherface (Dan Yeager) happened to survive a fiery assault on his household by angered town folk, and so did an infant, stolen away in the night, raised to look like Alexandra Daddario despite being nearly 40 years old in the present day... unless the original film actually took place in the 1990s (which it doesn’t).

Iffy math aside, Heather (Daddario) finds out that she’s not only adopted, but the sole heir to an estate in small-town Texas, so she rounds up her boyfriend (rapper Trey Songz) and two of their pals (Tania Raymonde, Keram Malicki-Sánchez) to make a road trip and sign all the necessary papers. The place turns out to be a grand old house, quite isolated and ideal for smoking, drinking, screwing, listening to Trey Songz songs, occupied only by a certain hulking maniac way down in the basement.

What follows is the kind of movie one might expect from four credited writers and the producers of the “Saw” series. Characters like Richard Riehle’s lawyer exists solely to dump exposition, ostensibly vital details are repeated ad nauseum (“August 19th was a significant date! Also, the town carnival’s coming up!”), and a bout of second-act research by our lead literally spells out everything that the audience was already shown in the film’s first ten minutes.

The aforementioned carnival sequence is about as un-thrilling as killer pursuits get, mostly established as an excuse to work in a clumsy “Saw” nod and a comin’-at-ya chainsaw toss towards the camera. This is followed by a laughable bit of business involving an investigating officer and the modern glories of Facetime (the lone moment where cell phones seem to actually exist in this tricky timeline), and all of it is padded out with an instantly tired Hatfields & McCoys-level family rivalry between Leatherface and the town elders.

This plot point introduces the film’s only almost interesting angle, that Leatherface might find himself existing as the lesser of two evils for a change, but I suppose that’s hardly worth fleshing out so long as there are pretty young midriffs worth carving up. The blood inevitably flows freely, however at odds those kills may be with the original’s penchant for more suggestive violence, and recurring motifs -- the iconic door slam, the flash bulb whine, the meat hook, the white freezer -- are in no small supply.

The result, however, is positively retrograde. Our characters boast a moronic fondness for hiding in confined spaces, and the actors seem to know deep down that convincing line readings aren’t exactly mandatory. That slick remake and even its prequel understood that glossiness need not eliminate the dual tensions of isolation and desperation, and yet Luessenhop (“Takers”) operates under the impression that bloody dispatches and constant callbacks will alone suffice in terms of scares.

Truth be told, the most frightening thing about the franchise at this point is that it just keeps on going, undaunted by the characteristics by which the first film made its name. Family is still family and a brand is still a brand, but the blade... well, it’s only grown dull.

Grade: D

Movie & TV Awards 2018