In 1979, a group of amateur filmmakers travels to a remote Texas farm to film an adult movie, unaware of the horrors that await. Spoilers follow.
What if the characters from Boogie Nights wandered into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Writer-director Ti West evokes the same bleak, rural atmosphere as Tobe Hooper’s classic, and regards his characters with the same caring, judgement-free eye as Paul Thomas Anderson. The first act overflows with atmosphere and potential.
But this proves a feint. West’s true intent lies in contrasting Maxine, the young, fame-hungry would-be adult film starlet, with Pearl, the elderly wife of the farm’s owner. Mia Goth plays both parts.
Pearl, once a ravishing beauty, envies Maxine’s youth and makes a pass at her. Unnerved and disgusted, Maxine declines. Aroused, Pearl pleads with her husband for sex, but he refuses, saying his heart is too weak. Frustrated, Pearl attempts to seduce another crew member. When he refuses, she stabs him to death.
And so we have the twist. A slasher where the killers are an elderly couple. They shamble around relying on surprise and a “they’re old so they must be harmless” mentality as they pick off the youngsters.
West proffers two memorable moments. One comes when a young man is searching for a missing crew member. Shirtless and barefoot in the hot night air, he ventures into a dark barn. As he walks, we get a POV shot from the ground as his bare foot crushes down onto a large rusty nail. Good stuff.
Later, after having offed much of the group, Pearl and her husband have sex. Unbeknownst to them, Maxine lies hidden under the bed. West proffers a bird’s-eye shot of the wrinkled flesh writhing as Pearl moans with pleasure.
But while West earns points for disturbing moments, the notion of elderly murderers doesn’t inspire the same level of dread as a more traditional antagonist. After Pearl’s first murder, she stands in the night, backlit by a car’s headlights, streaked in blood, and begins dancing. Goth convinces as a once graceful woman trapped in a body struggling to betray her, and conveys a sense of rebirth in the wordless scene. It’s horrifying and beautiful, but I struggled to stifle a chuckle at the thought of Leatherface running into the frame with a guttural roar and impaling her on his chainsaw.