Welcome to the shaky-cam, off-screen gore fest. Leatherface – movie review

A movie so successful and ground-breaking like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is destined to spread loads of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.

The latest of these is Leatherface, the origin story of the titular character, considered one of the most iconic horror villains of all time.

Leatherface 3Before proceeding with my review, I want to raise a question: is it always necessary to give great, mysterious characters an origin story? My answer is that such a thing is not only unnecessary, but could also be dangerous, taking away the aura of mystery and uneasiness linked to a beloved character.

Nevertheless, I’m always open (and hopeful) to be surprised and prone to change my mind.

Unfortunately, Leatherface only reinforced my convictions, being one of the worst and most disappointing movies of 2017.

I went into it saving an ounce of hope, since the duo of directors were French die-hard fans of Tobe Hooper’s most influential film. France is one of the few countries in which the TCSM formula has been tried with outstanding results – check out Frontiers (2007) and Calvaire (2004) for reference (I know Calvaire is a Belgian film, but they speak French in it, so I allowed myself to cheat a bit).

Furthermore, the two directors (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who previously came out with the fun, gory Inside, 2007) embraced the project with enthusiasm: “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the real game-changer… it changed the face of cinema… it’s a masterpiece” (Maury). They were also supervised by Tobe Hooper himself as the executive producer who, sadly, died before the film was released.

Leatherface 1.1Back to the movie: the story is about the dysfunctional Sawyer family that, after murdering the daughter of a local sheriff, sees their youngest son been taken into a mental institution. 10 years after his reclusion, the young Jed (Leatherface in the making) escapes with the help of three deranged patients and nurse, held hostage by the gang. The plotline follows their attempt to reach the Sawyer family, whilst being persecuted by the vindictive sheriff.

Now, this movie is full of flaws, but the biggest one revolves around tone and vibe: other than the first 3 minutes and the last 10, this flick doesn’t look anything like a TCSM film. In terms of locations, none of those utilised in the film remind the viewer of the Texan farms and fields – which makes sense, since it was shot over the course of 27 days (!) in Bulgaria!

Yet, the direction completely forgets about what made the original TCSM a ground-breaking piece of cinema: the gritty realism of the 1974 movie is replaced by over-the-top gore and driven by unlikable, idiotic characters.

Leatherface 1Also, in regards to the violence, Leatherface unwisely chooses to keep the most gruesome scenes off-camera, preferring to show two deranged criminals having sex on a corpse and showing signs of necrophilia. Scenes like these are just disgusting and off-putting, which has nothing to do with real horror or uneasiness. Yet, when the violence is actually on camera, who made the film decided to utilise the cheapest shaky-cam effects and shittiest colour scheme to prevent the viewers from enjoying the scenes.

Again, when it comes to the acting, Leatherface delivers us the most one-dimensional characters I have seen in a while, portrayed awfully by the actors – with the exception of Lili Taylor (Jed’s mom) and the titular protagonist (played fairly well by Sam Strike).

Leatherface 2Luckily enough, the portrayal of Jed/Leatherface is quite respectful of the character: he’s not downright evil, more so a victim of his background and the events that influenced his life. However, for some incomprehensible reason, the directors or writers of the script decide to focus more on other, useless characters, such as the nurse and a fat, mentally unstable goof who have no part in the TCSM universe.

Towards the end, we come back to the Sawyer family house, in which location and cinematography pay homage to the original 1974 film, which was kind of cool to see. Other than that, though, even the grand finale is downright ridiculous and disappointing.

Before I get to my conclusions, let me just add a complaint about an aspect of the movie that bugged me throughout. The editing is awfully jumpy during the entire runtime (only 84 minutes, luckily) and gives the impression of a product that has been released before being polished and refined. Since Leatherface has been shot over 27 days, which is insane, the only thing I could think of is that they just wanted to get it over with and come out with whatever shipwreck that could achieve in such a limited time. And this is what really pisses me off about a movie, because it shows little interest for audience and even less passion for your profession.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest not to watch Leatherface: if you’re a huge fan of the TCSM universe, this flick would likely let you down. If you’re just looking for some gory, mindless entertainment, instead, just check out something else which may allow you to see what’s going on. Cheers!

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When a bank robbery with James Franco goes wrong. The Vault – movie review

The Vault is a horror/thriller which revolves around a great and compelling mystery: trying to figure out what the hell James Franco is doing in this movie!

With Stephen King’s IT (review coming – very – soon) hitting theatres and making audiences go crazy, every other horror movie out there is being overlooked and, most probably, will flow under the radars.

Vault 1One of them is The Vault, written and directed by Dan Bush (The Signal, 2007), and starring James Franco and Clifton Collins Jr (Pacific Rim, Westworld, Star Trek). The focus of this horror disguised as a thriller, though, revolves around two estranged sisters – Vee and Leah Dillon, played by Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood – that decide to rob a bank in order to help their brother leaving prison.

After finding only £70.000 in the bank safe, the two ‘bad girls’ and their team of outcasts ask a bank employee to give them a way out with more money: Ed Maas (Franco) points them an old vault where they could find all the cash they need. Unfortunately, in the titular vault money is not the only thing the unlucky robbers will find…

Kicking off with a pretty cool opening scene, The Vault seems a straight-up thriller for the first 45 minutes or so, then it turns into a supernatural-driven horror flick. However, the main issues with the film is the very directorial inability to match the two tones. This movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what direction to go for, resulting in a quite disjointed and convoluted plot.

Besides, between thriller and horror scenes there are dull-witted dialogues that neither develop the characters, nor give viewers something to think about. In other words, they are fillers to make the flick reach the feature length.

Vault 2.jpgYet, the character themselves are mostly annoying and unlikable: only Leah (Eastwood) is worth rooting for, whereas her sister Vee (Manning) is, frankly, unbearable because she screams throughout the entire runtime and looks like she’s on cocaine for the majority of the film.

Also, since there is an overabundance of characters, Franco and Collins Jr are vastly underutilised and can’t shine in a movie which, honestly speaking, would very much need their on-screen charisma.

Again, the ending – and by that, I mean the very last shot – makes no sense whatsoever and seems the usual, lazy way to conclude a horror movie with a final jump-scare when the director or screenwriter run out of ideas.

Nevertheless, The Vault is not entirely worthless. For instance, towards the end and before the silly final sequence, there is a rather clever plot twist which, also, makes sense within the film and gives the audience certain answers they might have asked themselves during the film.

Other than one CGI made shot, everything else has been made through practical – and quite convincing – practical effects. There is some well-made gore thrown in the mix which is entertaining – although most of the time it’s hard to look at because of the damn shaky-cam.

Overall, I’d say The Vault would work better as a straight-up thriller rather than a mixed-genre that combines a crime story with supernatural horror. The good production values and intriguing premise, though, are not enough for me to recommend the film.

Vault featureUnless you are down for a moustached, grumpy James Franco! If that’s the case, go watch The Vault now, otherwise just avoid it. Cheers!

Seriously, Ridley Scott? Alien: Covenant – movie review

Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott’s attempt to reinvigorate the Alien franchise after the somewhat cold reactions received by Prometheus (2012) and some stinkers from the past (Alien: Resurrection, AVP), unworthily labelled as Alien movies.

Alien CovenantIn the film, we follow the crew of the Covenant – a spaceship on the way to Origae-6, a remote planet, to colonise it with some two-thousand colonists and a thousand embryos on-board. After something goes terribly wrong, the ship catches a human message from another unknown planet and, therefore, the crew decides to land there and see what’s going on.

Needless to say, the crew happens to be the target of creatures interested in nothing but ripping them apart in all manner of devastatingly inventive new ways.

After hanging over five years for answers that Prometheus set for us, Alien: Covenant only provides the viewers with some of the posers.

Instead, the result of the latest Scott’s movie appears an amalgamation between Alien and Prometheus, a mixed-bag that doesn’t satisfy neither the fans of the first nor the supporters of the latter.

Ali CovenantHaving high expectations for this film, I was very let down by it. In all honesty, Covenant is a convoluted, bloated mess that attempts to recreate the most successful chunks of both the first two Alien movies and Prometheus, failing, though, almost on every single level.

In all fairness, though, visuals and acting are the saving grace of the movie.

The cinematography is gorgeous and, once again, Ridley Scott proves to be a master-class Sci-fi director in terms of visual effects. Some of the shots are breath-taking and eye-grabbing, that’s undeniable.

Plus, the acting is very good on everyone’s part. Although Katherine Waterston as Daniels is decent, Danny McBride in an unprecedented role for him and Michael Fassbender – who carries the plot along throughout the entire two hours or so of runtime – stand out and are worth praising over the other performances.

However, these two elements only can’t save the movie from being a big let-down.

My main disappointment with Alien: Covenant revolves around the tone. The Prometheus-like vibe never matches with the Alien-like tone, providing a very contrasting feeling throughout the whole film.

Yet, the camera-work is sometimes frustrating: certain shots seem directly extracted from a videogame and there are scenes where it’s impossible to understand what’s going on because of the use of the infamous shaky-cam. Which I was really surprised Scott got away with, since it’s a technique such a good director should shy away from.

aliencovenantIn terms of camera-work, I was also disappointed by the fact that some gruesome and bloody sequences were made hard to look at, whereas would have been great to appreciate their effectiveness in this type of film.

Again, the CGI doesn’t blend with the practical effects and shots on location. It looks already fake and dated even in comparison with the astounding special effects of the first Alien (1979)! Ridley Scott, where did you go?

All in all, I would have preferred to see a straight-up sequel to Prometheus – which, although not perfect by any means, is an entertaining, challenging piece of cinema – rather than a bloated flick where direction and production company aimed to please the mass audience’s requests for more xenomorphs and brutal killings.

In conclusion, give Covenant a chance if you have to, but I personally wouldn’t recommend to watch this film, especially to those who love the first two movies and hope to see their beloved franchise to be reinvigorated. Cheers!