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Horror Channel FrightFest: Leatherface review

An entertaining but ultimately disappointing entry in the franchise.

Leatherface
Credit: Lionsgate

Texas Ranger Hal Hartman holds a personal grudge against Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) and her family following an incident involving them that took place 10 years earlier. In retaliation Hartman removed the youngest child Jed from his mother’s custody and put him in the foster system. 10 years later Jed is in a mental institution but under a different name. Having married up and come into money, Verna tries to gain access to her son and when her attempt is blocked, she sets the wheels in motion for a breakout.

Four patients escape – Clarice (Jessica Madsen), Ike (James Bloor), Bud (Sam Coleman) and Jackson (Sam Strike) – and they kidnap nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse). As they make their escape, Hartman and his squad pursue the group as they attempt to capture them. A cat and mouse chase ensues and the transition for one of them into the infamous Leatherface begins.

Leatherface has been very much sold as the origin story of its titular character. The opening scene of the movie establishes a young Jed reluctant to embrace the family business of torture and once the time jumps 10 years forward, it’s unclear which of the escaped patients is Jed. That’s clearly deliberate but it also means you’re not entirely sure who to invest your time in. Much of the film feels like a gang of unruly kids wreaking havoc more than it does an origin story.

Things do eventually come together in the third act but by that time the transition feels forced and dare I say not wholly believable. Add to that the distraction of Hartman pursuing the group and nurse Lizzy being given more time than perhaps she should, and Leatherface unfortunately unfolds into an underwhelming 90 minutes.

What perhaps surprised me the most about the film is that even the violence wasn’t all that spectacular or shocking. I recall watching the first movie in the franchise and my jaw was on the floor at what my eyes were seeing. Perhaps I’m too desensitised after all these years but the gory scenes gave me a feeling of ‘oh is that it?’

Despite its faults, the cast is universally good. The younger members are relatively unknown with the exception of Sam Strike who rose to fame in EastEnders. He’s actually very good here as Jackson and one of the standouts in the cast. Also good is Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy and credit must go to her because she makes you root for her character even when the character is doing stupid things (which is pretty often). Lili Taylor and Stephen Dorff are enjoyable but they are both sadly underused as is Marvel’s Iron Fist star Finn Jones, who plays one of the officers on Hartman’s team.

After the misfire that was Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2013, I was really hoping that Leatherface would be the film to get things back on track. Sadly it isn’t. Whilst it’s a lot better than its predecessor, and it is entertaining, it’s not the film I hoped it would be and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Ironically for a film named Leatherface, there was a surprising lack of the iconic horror character to enjoy and that’s a real shame.

 

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Vanessa Grasse, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman, Sam Strike Directors: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury Writers: Seth M. Sherwood Certificate: TBC Duration: 90 mins Released by: Lionsgate

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