While heading across Texas on their way to enlist for active duty in Vietnam, two brothers (Matthew Bomer and Taylor Handley), along with their girlfriends (Jordana Brewster and Diora Baird), come across trouble with some local bikers on the highway. The day gets even worse with the arrival of Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey), who drags the kids to the dreaded Hewitt compound, were they will be gutted for dinner by the youngest member of the clan, the disfigured Thomas (aka Leatherface).
In the dreadful, insulting 2003 remake of the classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," it was revealed that the saw-wielding maniac Leatherface was in actuality a bullied child, leading him into a life of destruction. By revealing this, the filmmakers put a human face on a demon, and effectively squashed a nightmare. "The Beginning" travels further back in time to see how Leatherface survived his formative years, and (no surprise) the results are even more ludicrous.
The formula for a "Chainsaw" film is so routine, it's almost a comedy at this point. After six installments of the Leatherface saga, the idea of more kids getting lost in the hidden interstates of Texas, lining up for the slaughter is, frankly, fairly boring. I mean, come on…even "Police Academy" went to Miami Beach for their fifth film. We're six deep into this series, and the characters are still running around a scummy house making bad survival decisions.
"The Beginning" promises from the title a new angle on the Hewitt clan. Writer Sheldon Turner might've had the best intentions with this prequel, but essentially, this is just a remake of the…er, remake (my head hurts). Outside of a prologue that shows Leatherface as an abandoned dumpster baby, and a sequence were he's laid off from his slaughterhouse job (I wish I were kidding about that one), Turner is basically writing a greatest "Chainsaw" hits here. Yet again, a group of 2006-looking teens (it's supposed to be the early 1970s) get in over their head, are picked off one by one, and struggle to survive the night. The only difference is, "The Beginning" supposes this is the first time the Hewitts have done these evil deeds, instead of the 33rd time.
The largest change to the flatlining formula is the radical amount of screentime given to Ermey's Sheriff Hoyt. Merely a punchline in the first remake, "Beginning" beefs up Hoyt to a starring role, with Ermey in charge of comedic one-liners and southern sassmouth. Just like a lesser "Nightmare on Elm Street" sequel, much of "Beginning" is played for laughs, or at least snickers. There isn't much of a horror tone set here, so the production lets Ermey go for giggles while the rest of the picture is bathed in buckets of blood. Neither side registers in the least.
If you've seen director Jonathan Liebesman's first film, "Darkness Falls," you already know that the young director has zero aptitude for the genre. "Beginning" is an unsophisticated directing job since Liebesman is caught between trying to further the obnoxious, Nine Inch Nails-video visual design set by remake #1 director Marcus Nispel and working from a script that serves up the same reheated horror stew. Frightened and creatively cornered, Liebesman hits the gore button over and over again to get himself out of trouble. Now, I have no problem with a grisly film, but absent any substance or visual panache, "Beginning" becomes a repetitive, unimaginative snuff film for undemanding Fangoria subscribers, and not an actual motion picture.
Since this is a prequel, genuine suspense is punted right out the window. We know Hoyt lives to see another stand-up comedy day, and Leatherface will get more chances to fillet a co-ed. The primal agony of the hunt has been picked clean from the material by greedy producers who just want to bleed some more coin from this iconic franchise.
Now that we know where Leatherface is coming from, it will be impossible to ever fear him again.
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