Friday, May 31, 2013


Earlier this week, the Melbourne International Film Festival teased audiences by announcing a couple of titles that would be playing during the two and a half week celebration of film.  One of those titles was the highly anticipated and very well received horror film, “You’re Next”, which is written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard.  This talented pair had previously combined forces on 2010’s “A Horrible Way To Die”, which is set firmly in the serial killer sub-genre but with quite a significant twist.  It is a title that I have had sitting on my dvd shelf for quite some time, still unwatched, and with the announcement that Barrett and Wingard’s latest would be playing at this year’s MIFF, I thought now was the perfect time to dust it off and finally give the film a watch.

The film is about a twenty-something aged girl named Sarah who once was unknowingly in a relationship with a serial killer.  After following her boyfriend, Garrick, during one of his many late night “walks”, Sarah happens to come across a storage unit that he has kept secret from her.  Going back to the place in daylight, Sarah breaks into the unit only to discover the horrible secret Garrick had been hiding from her.  She breaks down and immediately calls the police, thus ending her relationship with Garrick and being the main reason why this notorious serial killer was finally put behind bars.  Years after Garrick’s incarceration, Sarah is still struggling to get herself back together and regularly attends AA meetings for her alcohol abuse.  She believes that if she hadn’t been drinking or drunk most of the time while she was with Garrick that the outcome would have been very different and many lives would have been saved.  To be truthful, Sarah is a wreck of a person, but one day whilst at one of her meetings, a young man named Kevin reaches out to her.  Although Sarah is unsure if she is ready for this kind of attention, she decides that it is finally time to re-enter the world and agrees to go out on a date with Kevin.  As time goes on, she begins to feel more comfortable with Kevin and even starts to enjoy his company.  However this new found happiness may be short lived, as Garrick has recently escaped from prison and is heading directly to the whereabouts of his ex-girlfriend.

The majority of “A Horrible Way To Die” is really excellent.  It is a very well put together film, filled with great ideas and fantastic, naturalistic performances.  The script is interesting in the way that it tackles the conventions of the serial killer film and turns them on their head to create something that is truly unique within the genre, and the way the story has been edited and presented in a non-linear format, also makes the story immensely suspenseful and intriguing throughout.  However, as good as all this is, the diabolical way “A Horrible Way To Die” has been shot, almost destroys any enjoyment you can get from this film………almost.

Before I get to the major negative of the film, let’s talk about the positives.  As I mentioned the film has a couple of great performances from Amy Seimetz and AJ Bowen, as Sarah and Garrick respectively.  Bowen does a stunning job of presenting a man who hates what is inside him, but doesn’t have the strength to stop himself from performing these heinous deeds.  Garrick isn’t your normal “movie” serial killer, rather thanks to Bowen’s performance, he is represented as a deeply flawed human being who is sick with an insanity he cannot control.  It is so obvious that this is a man who is at war with himself; a man who is constantly fighting over what he wants to do against what he “has” to do.  Each time the man kills, he is often seen crying or slumped in a heap knowing he has failed yet again to stop himself from letting the evil out.  It is such a well rounded performance that you actually get a sense of what is going on in Garrick’s head, despite the fact that he is given limited dialogue.  One telling piece of dialogue that comes late in the film is when Garrick explains why he loved prison so much which was because of the space between people, meaning he was never close enough to anyone to kill them.  Seimetz, likewise, gives an amazingly human performance as Sarah and never once makes a false step.  She is also presented as a very flawed person, someone who is riddled with guilt due to uncontrollable things in her past, and she is failing to come to terms with.  Seimetz injects so much pain into Sarah that it looks like she could breakdown at any moment.  She seems to wander the world in a daze; she is alive but barely exists, that is, until Kevin enters her life and she slowly starts to find her feet again, although Sarah is one who finds trusting people very hard, for obvious reasons.  In regards to Joe Swanberg’s performance as Kevin, while he is certainly not bad, he just isn’t as convincing as his contemporaries.  He gives Kevin a smarmy presence and I never felt as if he was ever truly sincere.

While I usually hesitate to mention a twist in a film, I am going to do so here.  Late in the film, there is a significant twist in the tale, as everyone’s motivations appear to change that leads to the films denouement.  While I really believe that the twist is quite clever and should have worked really well within the film, unfortunately the finale of the film just hasn’t been done well at all, particularly from an acting standpoint.  It appears that the actors went to great lengths to portray such an emotional honesty for the early scenes of the film that when it came to the big reveal when some of the character’s true motivations are revealed, they aren’t able to make this change as believable as it should have been.  For the first time in the film, everything plays out more like a movie and the situation, for once, does not feel real.  From a directorial standpoint also, the final scene just looks rushed and everything is blocked as basic as can be.  This is a shame because if this scene could have been pulled off with the honesty of what had come before it, “A Horrible Way To Die” could have become a genre classic.

Another thing that impressed me about the film was its editing, and the fact that the story was presented in a non-linear fashion.  While I will admit that it did cause some confusion early on in the film, once I understood exactly what was going on and who was who, I found the device to be exciting and it generated some great suspense.  It may be true that the editing disguises just how straightforward and simple the story really is, but for me I thought it added another dimension to the film and it made it much more enjoyable.  The way Garrick’s back-story is presented really gives him extra depth in regards to just how human and likeable he was when he was with Sarah, something you would never imagine early on in the film.

Now, it is time for me to talk about the biggest flaw in “A Horrible Way To Die” and that is the way the film is shot.  Right off the bat, let me say that I am not a fan of “shaky cam” at all.  I think it is often used to disguise a director’s deficiencies and is very often used lazily, although I will admit there are some times (not very often) when this style does work within the confines of the film itself.  This film appears to have been shot entirely hand-held, which I do not have a problem with in and of itself, it is just the style that director Adam Wingard chooses to employ within the handheld style that I couldn’t stand which is something even beyond “shaky cam”.  For whatever reason, the camera never stays still and thus is constantly in motion (obviously), even during the most banal of dialogue sequences.  Characters appear in and out of frame within shots as the camera seems to just sway aimlessly.  What is so strange about this is that this is obviously a conscious decision from Wingard to shoot like this because the camera moves so unnaturalistically that it had to be deliberate.  It makes the film infuriating to watch and actually works against the film because it just takes away from what is so good about the film which are the performances (and the story as well).  It immediately takes you out of what you are watching because you become so aware of the camera moving, mainly because of the actors appearing in and out of frame so often.  Even worse are the scenes in Sarah’s house which for some reason is lit entirely with Christmas lights.  Whenever night scenes are played out in this apartment we get the red flares from the lights making it almost impossible to see what is going on, this combined with the camera nauseatingly swaying all over the place.  Another deliberate thing is the fact that a lot of what we see is out of focus.  Again, I do not understand why a director would choose to film his story in this way as it seems so anti-productive.

Overall, as bad as the visual style of “A Horrible Way To Die” is, I think the strengths of the film are so strong that I was still able to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  It is obvious that both Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard have talent (Wingard also edited the film) and they have created quite an amazing film that had the potential to be a classic if it was shot in a normal conventional way.  While some detractors of the film may claim it to be too slow, I thought it’s pacing was spot on.  In fact, I thought pretty much everything about the film was spot on, if not for the damn visuals……Why, Adam, Why?!?!  Thankfully, from the look of the trailer of the pair’s next film, “You’re Next”, Wingard has abandoned this intrusive style of filming for a more traditional approach and from all reports, the film is amazing.  While “A Horrible Way To Die” frustrated me no end, the film has so much good in it that I would still cautiously recommend it.

3.5 Stars.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


His first film in nine years, director Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest film, “Me and You” (Io e Te), is an intimate and modest drama about an introverted fourteen year old boy, Lorenzo, who decides to skip a school skiing trip he is meant to be attending with his schoolmates to hide in the basement of the apartment building he calls home, in an attempt to just be alone and away from the world.  Unexpectedly his half-sister, Olivia, shows up and ends up sharing the space with her brother as she prepares to go cold turkey on her heroin addiction with the goal of cleaning up her life and to reconnect with a past relationship.  Although the two share a father, Lorenzo and Olivia barely know each other, let alone have any sort of relationship however during the seven days they share together, they come to understand and even love one another while also helping the other readjust themselves in preparation of re-entering the world with purpose.

While he was always interested in the human interactions and emotions within the stories he presented, during director Bernardo Bertolucci’s glory days these things were often explored in epic scope with films like “1900”, “The Last Emperor” and even “Last Tango In Paris”.  In the latter part of his career however, while the scope of Bertolucci’s films may have shrunk, his focus on character has always remained the same.  “Me and You” is practically a two-hander for the majority of the film, and is also set in a single location and yet the film is so engaging.  This is mainly due to two reasons; the first is that Bertolucci and his actors have created characters that are interestingly and honestly drawn which makes them imminently watchable even when they are doing quite unreasonable things.  Make no mistake about it, both Lorenzo and Olivia are deeply flawed characters (Olivia is very almost unlikeable) but because they always feel real and true to themselves and the story, we the audience find ourselves caring about their ordeals, no matter how minor they may be.  The other thing that makes “Me and You” so watchable is the professionalism behind the filmmaking itself.  This should not come as a shock from any film directed by Bertolucci but you would be excused in thinking that “Me and You” had the possibility of being a very boring film from the limits of location and characters, but you would be very wrong.  I was stunned at just how cinematic the film was and the expert way Bertolucci told this small story.

I will admit that just from the trailers for this film, I was sure that I was not going to like Jacopo Olmo Antinori’s performance as Lorenzo but I was totally wrong; he is simply magnificent in the role.  As I have already mentioned, he is very engaging and I was totally with everything he did in the role.  He was able to portray a man who was obviously very disturbed from something in his past that has resulted in him shutting himself off from the rest of the world, and yet he is someone who has never lost his humanity even though he appears to distance himself from it.  I loved the way he was so meticulous in details from preparing himself for his seven day stay in the basement (buying seven of everything and then lining them up perfectly) to the way he observes the colony of ants and the way they interact.  Another thing that I loved was the way he never judges his sister for the life she lives and the mistakes she has made.  He accepts her for who she is and is there for her when she finally asks for help.  Personally, I think Tea Falco has the harder role in Olivia because her character is so unlikable for the majority of the film and yet she needs to perform in a way that is both honest and to be able to give the audience an access point to understand her, which I think she is successful in doing.  She also has a couple of heartbreaking scenes during the middle of her ordeal of trying to get clean where she is in incomparable pain that just feels so raw and real.  Having no contact with drugs or its affects, I can honestly say that I do not know if this portrays the reality of the situation, but it certainly felt like it came from a real place which is quite terrifying.  Luckily, both actors also have fantastic chemistry together and really bounce of each other brilliantly.  There is a stunning scene late in the film when the two siblings share a dance that is just beautiful and full of emotion.

Visually, the film is stunning to look at.  Again from the trailer for the film, I didn’t realize just how beautiful a film this was going to be, but right from the opening shot I was thoroughly impressed.  The scenes before Lorenzo goes down into the basement are simply beautiful and Fabio Cianchetti’s cinematography and camerawork is in a class of its own.  Just the way the camera glides through the space of the locations is just so classy and very old-school; I just fell in love with the visual style right away.  Once the kids enter the cramped confines of the basement you could assume that the elegant camera moves may disappear, but while they are no doubt less flamboyant then those presented earlier in the film, they are no less impressive.  A lesser director would have shot this film in a very flat style from similar angles at all times, no doubt restricted by the space of the location, but Bertolucci always finds a way to make each shot special and exciting to look at.  It became very obvious to me early on, that even at the age of seventy-three, Bertolucci has lost none of his immense talent (unlike his contemporary Dario Argento).

“Me and You” is a modest film and as such the story has very minor emotional beats and very limited drama within, but once again, due to the importance Bertolucci shows towards the honesty of a scene, you actually feel every beat with the characters themselves.  When the film reaches its conclusion, there hasn’t been a massive shift in the characters but you get the feeling at least one of them is going to be alright and move ahead in their life while the other, sadly, may be doomed to repeat their past mistakes.  Whatever the case, the week the two shared together will always stay with them and be a positive memory in their lives.

Overall, “Me and You” is very minor Bertolucci, but has been impeccably put together that it is always engaging and worthwhile.  The film is anchored by two stellar performances from Jacopo Olmo Antinori and Tea Falco as Lorenzo and Olivia respectively, and the cinematography from Fabio Cianchetti is always amazing.  The way Bertolucci also uses music (Lorenzo is a big fan of music) is also quite brilliant and an insight into Lorenzo’s psyche.  Unfortunately, “Me and You” received a very limited release here in Australia, so if you missed the recent screenings of the film at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas, you may have to wait until the film is released on home video, but personally I believe it is well worth it.

3.5 Stars.

Monday, May 6, 2013


After the much loved and highly praised “Blue Valentine”, director Derek Cianfrance certainly had his work cut out for him to try and match that film’s quality and emotional honesty with his follow up film.  Unsurprisingly he has done just that with his brilliant new film “The Place Beyond The Pines” which sees him reteaming with his “Blue Valentine” star, Ryan Gosling.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” is a film that is very much separated into thirds telling three different stories.  Each story is their own but elements of the other stories overlap slightly into each segment.  The first section of the film is about a motorcycle stunt-driver who turns to robbing banks in an attempt to provide for his infant son.  The second is about a “hero” rookie cop who after being injured on duty and rehabilitated via a desk-job decides to take on the corruption that is within the police force.  Finally, the last section of the film is about two teenage “stoners”  with daddy issues who find each other at school and come to realize after spending some time with each other that they both share an unwanted legacy that has to do with the past actions of their fathers.

Derek Cianfrance has created what appears to be a crime drama but what is actually a brilliant epic about fathers and sons and the major influence a father has on their son’s life, as well as looking at consequences of actions and how they can also influence for generations to come.  Before seeing this film I really was not sure what I was walking into.  All I knew coming into the film was who directed and starred in it and I think I had only seen the trailer one or two times before, therefore I went into “The Place Beyond The Pines” with little expectations of what I was seeing however I never thought I would be walking into something with such a huge scope like this does.  I was floored by this movie; I really think that it is something pretty special and so far is amongst the two best things I have seen all year.  Everything about the film is done so professionally and you can tell that this is the work of a master filmmaker.  

Personally I found the first section of the film to be absolutely exhilarating, with every decision Cianfrance made to be perfect.  I am quite a big fan of Ryan Gosling and again I thought his portrayal of Luke, the stunt rider, was among his very best work.  Luke is a character that is completely unhinged and yet is trying to do the right thing however he is so used to living in the fast lane that his lack of patience becomes his ultimate downfall.  The (brilliant) opening shot of the film says a lot about Luke as a character.  As it follows him through the carnival, he projects a certain confidence like he is a big shot and in the small world of a carnival, he may be.  However in reality he is anything but; he is a minor player, always broke and looking for a quick fix.  As any parent knows, these attributes do not help in bringing up a child as there is no quick fix for parenting.  It takes time and all of your energy and above everything else you need patience.  Gosling is such a charismatic actor and he uses this charisma perfectly at the start of the film; it is easy to see why people like him, but he is even better later on as Luke becomes more and more desperate.  Even his voice changes pitch as Luke starts to become more panicked at the thought of losing his son that leads him to make some very bad decisions.  By this stage, Gosling portrays Luke with a fierce intensity and you know that this man is a ticking time-bomb.

Unlike the following two parts of the film, this first section moves at a breakneck pace and is so kinetic.  This is mainly due to the motorcycle and the way Luke’s mind functions but it is breathtaking.  I was so impressed by Sean Bobbitt’s widescreen cinematography here (actually it is brilliant all through the film) and thought it really helped define Luke as a character.  While I am not a fan of the shaky cam look at all, it seemed to work here, as it is used mainly to help express how Luke is feeling in the moment which is very confused and erratic.  The camerawork mirrors these emotions perfectly.  Despite the opening shot of the film, another simple shot that I loved was one when Ryan Gosling is stopped at a traffic light.  The light changes green which we can see reflected on his face; everything is telling him to go and yet he stays stationary as cars go around him.  It is such a beautifully realized moment because even though everything is telling him to go (including the traffic light) he decides he is going to do the right thing and stay to look after his son.

Because the first section is filled with bike chases and robberies and moves at a breakneck pace, I will admit that there is a jarring effect when the second, slower section begins.  Once you readjust yourself to the pace of this section, you will notice that the quality of the story hasn’t dropped in any way.  The second story is about a young rookie cop who after responding to a call ends up at a woman’s house that has an intruder inside.  While trying to get the intruder to come out, he is shot and the intruder is killed.  After the shooting has been investigated and deemed just, Avery (the police officer) is publicly hailed a hero but inside he feels anything but.  Knowing the man he killed had a small son the same age as his own and that he is the result that this boy will grow up without a father is almost too much for Avery to handle to the point that he finds it very hard to look at his own son.  From here on the film moves at a much slower pace but the emotional intensity is still very high.  It is so sad to think that just from a man doing his job that two young boy’s lives are going to be affected.  The father / son theme is explored thoroughly in this section because although Avery has issues with his own father (who happens to be a judge) when he finds himself in trouble, it is his father that he turns to for help and like any father would, his father is there for him.  Bradley Cooper is really good as Avery, although he lacks the charisma of Gosling, but his role is far less showy in that regard.  Avery is well educated and controlled and is not used to emotional outbursts.  He is considered in his actions and seems to only do what he thinks is right and Cooper conveys all of this perfectly.  What he does so well is even when he is working on the corruption case, you can still feel the weight he holds on his shoulders over that shooting.  It is almost like he wants to attack corruption as a means to take his mind off the little boy he has left fatherless.  

The final section with the two boys is again quite different from the previous two although in terms of pace, it is much closer to the second section.  Here we have a different take on the father / son theme as this section looks at how a father’s actions from the past can affect their children in the future.  Both of our characters we follow here, AJ and Jason, feel abandoned by their fathers although their stories are completely different.  Whilst Jason’s father actually has died (and his mother refuses to talk about him in any context), AJ’s father is very much alive however due to his job (his dad is an attorney) he just doesn’t seem to have the time for him.  The two boys also have very different upbringings; AJ has obviously been brought up around money whilst Jason has lived rather poor for the majority of his life, nothing handed to him easily, and yet despite the boy’s differences they notice or feel that they are both going through similar emotions and can empathize with one another.  This section is probably the saddest of the three particularly when Jason decides to try and find out about his father and who he really is.  There are a couple of conversations here that are just heartbreaking, but this section also looks at whether or not a son is doomed to recommit the same sins of their father.  Another thing explored in the background is whether it is nature or nurture that results in how someone will turn out.

As I have stated, “The Place Beyond The Pines” is just an amazing cinema experience with all facets of the production coming together perfectly.  I have already mentioned Sean Bobbitt’s spectacular cinematography that just suited this film to a T, but probably my favourite aspect of the film was the truly sensational score from Mike Patton.  The music was so well used in this film, it was stunning.  What it did so well was it elevated the emotional content within the film, but importantly it did not tell you how to feel.  It just felt organic and added to the experience without ever intruding on the story once.  I am not someone that really takes a lot of notice with the music in films except when it stands out (either in good or bad ways).  I just felt the score was masterful here and just added another layer to this already beautifully crafted film.  I also loved the look of the film particularly with the costume design.  Ryan Gosling’s character, Luke, particularly expressed so much about himself through his clothes and tattoos. The fact that he wore his t-shirts inside out and were covered in holes; it just said so much about who he was.  Another thing I loved was the reality of everything being presented.  Everything just felt real; it never felt like a “Hollywood” version of events.  The actors were all prepared to get down and dirty (some literally) and were willing to be dressed down and be make-up free, all to present a reality.

So was there anything bad about “The Place Beyond The Pines”?  Not really, but this is a very man-centric film so a lot of the female roles are either underwritten or barely there at all.  I particularly feel for Rose Byrne who basically plays the wife role (but is very good doing it) and had little to no meat to chew on.

Overall, I thought “The Place Beyond The Pines” was a spectacular film and one of the very best I had seen all year.  It has been expertly written and directed and acted (including some great smaller roles filled out by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta and Eva Mendes) and barely has a fault to it.  While the slow pacing may turn a lot of people off, I was stunned by the epic nature of this story about fathers and sons, that I even thought it was comparable in quality to “The Godfather” (and I do not say that lightly).  It is also a fantastic conversational starter as my wife and I were discussing the film for hours after we walked out of the cinema.  Right from the opening frame, I was mesmerized by this film and recommend it to everyone wholeheartedly and I also recommend to everyone to see it on the big screen if possible.  First of all, it looks amazing but secondly this is the type of film that is made specifically for adults that we need to see more of on the big screen, so we need studios and distributors to understand that there is a market out there for this kind of film.  Without a doubt, “The Place Beyond The Pines” will be on my top ten list at the end of the year.

4.5 Stars.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Every now and then a film just seems to catch lightning in a bottle and no matter how hard you try to replicate its success, it just is not possible.  Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is one such film; it captured something within the zeitgeist of its time which audiences reacted strongly to.  It was the perfect time to tell such a story.  However due to the iconic presence of its main villain Leatherface, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” has been tried numerous times to be turned into another successful horror franchise, however as can be seen be the quality of the subsequent sequels and remakes, it appears that lightning does indeed only strike once.  However, that has not stopped the producers of this latest installment, imaginatively titled “Texas Chainsaw” (which by immediately omitting the “Massacre” from the title brings fears that this new film will be toothless), at taking their shot at recreating the success of the 1974 film.  What makes this new film stand out from the pack is that it is a direct sequel of the original film, taking place mere seconds after that film’s ending and Sally escaping from a very angry Leatherface.

After escaping the vicious and demented Sawyer family barely with her life, Sally sounds the alarm about the bloody massacre that has taken place at that family’s farmhouse.  Immediately Sheriff Hooper is dispatched to the place in question to arrest the man known as “Leatherface”.  Knowing that their only way out of this mess is to give up the boy, the elder members of the Sawyer family decide to co-operate with the Sheriff, but before they can send him out peacefully a lynch mob, led by redneck Burt Hartman, arrives on the Sawyer property to ensure that the only way this thing ends is with the entire family dying in flames.  A member from the mob launches a Molotov cocktail through the window of the farmhouse, which begins an intense gunfight resulting in all of the members of the Sawyer family being killed either by gunshot wound or burnt to death.  However as the lynch mob goes over the place looking for survivors, one member, Gavin, finds a young baby girl and decides to steal it for his wife, Arlene, on account that she is unable to have children.  From here the story jumps ahead to the present with Heather (the baby all grown up) receiving word that her grandmother had just died.  Believing that all of her grandparents were dead already, she questions her parents who admit to Heather that she was “adopted”.  The biggest surprise for Heather, however, is that the grandmother she never knew had left the girl her house and all she had to do to get it was go to Texas and sign the papers.  Thinking this was the perfect opportunity for a road trip, Heather gathers up a few friends and heads out to the Lone Star State.  When arriving in Texas, Heather and her friends are surprised to find that the house that grandma had left for her was actually a mansion.  The group decides to stay the night but little do the house guests realize that behind a hidden wall in the kitchen another guest resides in the house.  Who is this mysterious guest?  I will give you one clue: he has a fetish for chainsaws.

Wait.  So let me get this straight.  Throughout all of the events that happened during “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” there was always a young woman with her baby living in the farmhouse too?  And where did all those other family members (conveniently) come from?  I do not remember them even being mentioned in the original movie either.  And just what year is this film set?  If you are at all familiar with the original film, you know the events that took place did so in August 1973.  This new film is meant to start the second after the original finished which means that if Heather is the age she is presented in the film (which appears to be mid-20’s), the film should take place somewhere between the years of 1993-1998, however the modern technology the characters use (the cars and iPhones complete with “face time”) seem to date the film as happening right now in the present; 2013. 

It is clear that this new “Texas Chainsaw” film has some very obvious (and serious) continuity flaws with the original film but you can see that the filmmakers here all had their hearts in the right place.  It is plain to see that they are massive fans of the Tobe Hooper film and want to pay homage to it by attempting to do a sequel right, but I just wish they had done so a little more smartly because whatever “Texas Chainsaw” might be, one thing that it is, is just plain dumb.  Despite the continuity errors, our main characters always seem to make dumb decisions.  I know that this is a horror film and this kind of thing comes part and parcel with it all, but seriously to hide yourself from a man chasing you with a chainsaw, the last thing you would ever do is hop in an open casket in a graveyard and close the lid down.  That is just DUMB!  However, saying all of that and despite everything, I still found “Texas Chainsaw” to be a very entertaining watch.  Even though I knew the whole time that what I was watching was not at all great, I still couldn’t help but be entertained by it all.  Being a huge fan of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” I just had to let go of all of the aforementioned continuity errors (which I am sure not all fans will be able to do) and just enjoy it for what it was.

I will admit that I was not a huge fan of the opening part of the film set in 1973 (?).  The use of footage from the original film actually really rubbed me the wrong way and as soon as the new stuff started you could immediately see a drop in quality.  However the filmmakers were able to perform miracles by getting a couple of the original cast members to cameo at the start of the film.  Gunner Hansen (the original “Leatherface”) shows up briefly as one of the elder Sawyer family members and amazingly John Dugan reprises his role of “Grandpa”.  “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” alumni Bill Moseley fills in for Jim Siedow (who has since passed on) playing the role of Drayton Sawyer as well.  As great as this casting is, all are dead within minutes which almost makes you wonder what was the point, especially for poor old “Grandpa” who didn’t even garner a close-up in the entire scene.  Another thing about this opening scene is that it is very reminiscent of the opening of Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects” and compared to the scene in that film, it really didn’t fare well at all.

Once the film cuts to the present, I again was frustrated with the film when it appeared like it was going to be just another rehash of the first.  Again we see a group of friends hop in a van and head to Texas unaware of what was waiting there for them.  However surprisingly I really didn’t mind being in the company of these characters.  Sure, you know that they are just going to be fodder for Leatherface, but for once, they were not at all annoying.  I thought the group had a real good chemistry together and there were some nice dramatic arcs being laid out that would have been interesting to follow if it wasn’t for their lives being cut short.  This actually impressed me a lot because normally characters in these kinds of films are like cardboard cutouts and here they were presented with actually having real lives.  The “cheating” subplot worked best for me because you always assumed that it would have some significance later down the road but it had no relevance at all to this story, it was just a part of these characters lives that, sadly, has now ended.

Right up until two thirds through the film we follow very familiar turf in regards to the story progression, however during the final third of the film, a significant twist (which I will not reveal) is thrown our way which kind-of makes the whole thing worth it.  While, again, it is pretty dumb (if you really think about it), at least the filmmakers are attempting something different here rather than churn out the same movie time and time again.  What this twist also does is change directions as to where any type of sequel may go.  It would now be very hard to return to the same ol’ same ol’ in subsequent films, which in my opinion, is a great thing. 

In regards to the filmmaking behind “Texas Chainsaw”, it is a bit of a mixed bag.  While for the most part John Luessenhop’s direction is rather pedestrian and predictable, he does have a great knack for creating suspense.  Surprisingly there were a number of scenes where I was on the edge of my seat.  Being a fan of the original film, Luessenhop obviously understands that that film worked due to its suspense rather than gore (despite its reputation, the original film is surprisingly almost bloodless), and he follows through with this approach here.  When Leatherface attacks it is quick and brutal, but that is it, it does not dwell on any elongated torture of the victims.  That said, due to today’s standards “Texas Chainsaw” is a much bloodier film than its predecessor and the gore effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are all handled beautifully (as usual).  The visual style of the film, on the other hand, is another thing.  Unfortunately, “Texas Chainsaw” is not a great looking film at all, and it particularly comes off as cheap looking.  This may have to do with being shot on digital video (a by-product of the 3D process unfortunately) but it really does not look any better than a number of direct-to-video films.  Acting wise, there is little to recommend, although I did think lead actress, Alexandra Daddario, had a nice screen presence and there is another nice cameo right at the end of the film by Marilyn Burns (who played Sally in the original).  The production design by William A. Elliot is the highlight of the film though because he does an amazing job of recreating the original farmhouse.  Even his design of the mansion is great because it echoes the farmhouse in so many ways so it gives you a feeling that you know the place.

Overall, “Texas Chainsaw” is the ultimate guilty pleasure.  For all of its faults, it still manages to be very entertaining.  While there is no doubt that the filmmakers are huge fans of Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” the constant referencing to that film also happens to be this new film’s biggest weakness.  By constantly reminding audiences of the original film and even including footage of that film, the filmmakers have inadvertently alerted them to just how inferior “Texas Chainsaw” is compared to the masterpiece that is the original.  Due to the film’s very lackluster script, it comes across as very dumb, but as I keep mentioning, it is surprisingly very entertaining and thanks to a late twist, even a little surprising.  It certainly isn’t the worst film in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise (that honour still belongs to “The Return Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” from 1994).

3 Stars.