“Understated” isn’t a word you’d ordinarily use to describe a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but that’s surprisingly what 12 Strong ends up being.
The new version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of a reason to see it. Those who defend it will have to dance through mental hoops of their own devising, defining its meanness and despair as "style" or "vision" or "a commentary on our world." It is not a commentary on anything, except the marriage of slick technology with the materials of a geek show.
The movie is a remake of, or was inspired by, the 1974 horror film by Tobe Hooper. That film at least had the raw power of its originality. It proceeded from Hooper's fascination with the story and his need to tell it. This new version, made by a man who has previously directed music videos, proceeds from nothing more than a desire to feed on the corpse of a once-living film. There is no worthy or defensible purpose in sight here: The filmmakers want to cause disgust and hopelessness in the audience. Ugly emotions are easier to evoke and often more commercial than those that contribute to the ongoing lives of the beholders.
The movie begins with grainy "newsreel" footage of a 1974 massacre (the same one as in the original film; there are some changes but this is not a sequel). Then we plunge directly into the formula of a Dead Teenager Movie, which begins with living teenagers and kills them one by one. The formula can produce movies that are good, bad, funny, depressing, whatever. This movie, strewn with blood, bones, rats, fetishes and severed limbs, photographed in murky darkness, scored with screams, wants to be a test: Can you sit through it? There were times when I intensely wanted to walk out of the theater and into the fresh air and look at the sky and buy an apple and sigh for our civilization, but I stuck it out. The ending, which is cynical and truncated, confirmed my suspicion that the movie was made by and for those with no attention span.
The movie doesn't tell a story in any useful sense, but is simply a series of gruesome events which finally are over. It probably helps to have seen the original film in order to understand what's going on, since there's so little exposition. Only from the earlier film do we have a vague idea of who the people are in this godforsaken house, and what their relationship is to one another. The movie is eager to start the gore and unwilling to pause for exposition.
I like good horror movies. They can exorcise our demons. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" doesn't want to exorcise anything. It wants to tramp crap through our imaginations and wipe its feet on our dreams. I think of filmgoers on a date, seeing this movie and then -- what? I guess they'll have to laugh at it, irony being a fashionable response to the experience of being had.
Certainly they will not be frightened by it. It recycles the same old tired thriller tools that have been worn out in countless better movies. There is the scary noise that is only a cat. The device of loud sudden noises to underline the movements of half-seen shadows. The van that won't start. The truck that won't start. The car that won't start. The character who turns around and sees the slasher standing right behind her. One critic writes, "Best of all, there was not a single case of 'She's only doing that (falling, going into a scary space, not picking up the gun) because she's in a thriller.' " Huh? Nobody does anything in this movie for any other reason. There is no reality here. It's all a thriller.
There is a controversy involving Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Volume 1," which some people feel is "too violent." I gave it four stars, found it kind of brilliant, felt it was an exhilarating exercise in nonstop action direction. The material was redeemed, justified, illustrated and explained by the style. It was a meditation on the martial arts genre, done with intelligence and wit. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a meditation on the geek-show movie. Tarantino's film is made with grace and joy. This movie is made with venom and cynicism. I doubt that anybody involved in it will be surprised or disappointed if audience members vomit or flee.
Do yourself a favor. There are a lot of good movies playing right now that can make you feel a little happier, smarter, sexier, funnier, more excited -- or more scared, if that's what you want. This is not one of them. Don't let it kill 98 minutes of your life.
Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.
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