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Inadequacy can Teach: An Analysis of a Film Critic’s Movie Review

Critiquing a fellow film critics’ movie review is a bit impolite but when I came across this film review as few weeks back, it screamed for analysis. It was so glaring, so burning, so informative in an unintentional way, I had to bring it before you to examine, dissect, and talk about constructively. Such reviews have valuable lessons to teach.

The Film

The film reviewed was Texas Chainsaw 3D. More on the film:

Texas Chainsaw 3D is a 2013 American slasher film directed by John Luessenhop and written by Debra Sullivan and Adam Marcus. It is the seventh film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, and was presented in 3-D. The film stars Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Tremaine Neverson, Tania Raymonde, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, and Bill Moseley. (Spoiler Begins) The story centers on Heather, who discovers that she was adopted after learning of an inheritance from a long-lost grandmother. She subsequently takes a road trip with her friends to collect the inheritance, unaware that it includes her cousin, Leatherface, as well. (Spoiler Ends) Filming began in the summer of July 2011, with Kirsten Elms and Luessenhop providing rewrites to the script. Texas Chainsaw 3D was released on January 4, 2013.

Alexandra Daddario Texas Chainsaw 3D

Alexandra Daddario Texas Chainsaw 3D

The Reviewer and the Film Review

The review was titled: Dear Texas Chainsaw 3D Target Audience: It Gets Better and was written by Dustin Rowles.

Not a Review of the Film Begins

Dear Texas Chainsaw 3D Target Audience —

Let me guess, you’re a dude somewhere between 16 and 22 years old, and if you didn’t sneak into this movie, you used to sneak into movie just like this. You spend a lot of time watching horror movies because it’s a great escape. It’s not necessarily the violence you cling to, but the nerdier aspects of it: How the effects are produced, the people behind those horror movies, the mythology of the characters, and a lot of the books they’re based on. It beats having to talk to the meatheads and rednecks that surround you, am I right?

You’ll probably see Texas Chainsaw 3D with your two best friends (some would say, only friends), right? One of them is probably a chunky virgin, and the other probably has long hair and occasionally has a girlfriend. You? You’re probably a band geek, or something approximating it, and you and you’re friends probably spend a lot of time, hanging out, shooting the shit about horror flicks or comics, and not getting laid. You’re good kids; you’re smarter than most of those around you; you engage in petty vandalism from time to time, and you probably spend too much time on the Internet.

It gets better.

That pudgy friend of yours? He’ll probably get even more invested in horror movies over the years, maybe cut himself a few times in college, and smoke a little pot, but he’ll eventually find someone. He’ll grow up to be a school teacher or something, and maybe have a kid or two, and one day, you’re going to wonder about future generations because they’re being taught by a guy who used to spend most of his time watching and obsessing over slasher pics. Hell, he still has a massive collection of horror movie toys, and spends a lot of his time with his wife at horror-movie Cons. He never really grew up, but he likes it that way.

That other guy? The one with longer hair? He’ll actually apply a lot of what he learned obsessing over make-up effects in horror movies to his future career as a dentist. He kind of hates his job, but he does well, and he still spends most Friday nights forcing shitty horror movies onto his wife, who’d probably be rather watching anything else. He doesn’t realize it because he has some insecurity issues and complains too much, but he’s living the good life, too.

You? You’re going to be all right, too. You’ll eventually transfer that obsession with horror movie minutia to something slightly more beneficial, the debates over movies may work to your benefit in law school, and you’ll eventually end up doing something you love, even if it doesn’t pay that well. But you’ll be happy, and eager to introduce your own kids to the horror classics someday. Assholes will probably accuse of you of being a hater because you’re often too nostalgic over the way horror movies used to be. Simpler. Bloodier. Less nihilistic. Fewer CGI effects, and there was no such thing as a f*cking PG-13 horror film. GOD.

But it gets better.

Not a Review of the Film Ends

 

Film Synopsis and Spoilers Begin

For now, Texas Chainsaw 3D is exactly what you need: A shitty horror movie (Film Review) where skinny bitches get cut up, the frat boys end up in in pieces, and the rednecks wind up in the meat grinders. It’s not a great — or even good — movie, but there’s some new kills, a cool goth chick in the center of it all, and some new mythology to geek out with your friends over.

Specifically, the prologue is set in the 1970s, right after the events of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After ole Leatherface waves his chainsaw at the Last Girl, who gets away in a pick-up truck, the townsmen close in on the Sawyer farmhouse and burn it to the ground. All the Sawyers are burned alive except one woman, who escapes with her child. The baby is abducted by one of the redneck townsfolk. He kills the mom, and — along with his wife — raises the child as his own. Twenty some odd years later, the Sawyer matriarch passes, and ends up leaving her mansion — where all the Sawyers are also buried — to that child, Heather (Alexandra Daddario).

Heather goes on a road trip with her friends to collect her inheritance, that old Sawyer mansion, but soon discovers that good ole Leatherface — Jed Sawyer, a 6’5 menace with the brain of an eight year old who wears other people’s faces over his own — is living in a basement. One of the dumb friends lets him out, and Leatherface — chainsaw in hand — goes on another killing spree.

Film Synopsis and Spoilers End

 

The Film Review Begins

But there’s a fun little twist in the end, one that is somewhat predictable but satisfying all the same, and it’ll leave you and your friends with plenty to chew on and discuss while you’re avoiding the real people around you.

The Film Review Ends

 

Not a Review of the Film Begins

That is to say, Texas Chainsaw 3D is not a good movie (Film Review), but you never expected it to be, did you? But you’re happy enough; it gets the job done, kills a couple of hours, makes you squirm a couple of times, and gives you something to talk about at IHOP afterwards. Not a bad night, not a bad night at all.

It does get better, but my advice to you is to appreciate how good it is now.

Not a Review of the Film Ends

The Analysis

This film review was 908 words long, more than enough words to discuss what a film critic likes and dislikes about a film. Such a length also allows the author the space to bring all of his or her thoughts on the overall film to the reader.

The immediate problem with Dustin Rowles’ film review of Texas Chainsaw 3D was that the actual review did not begin until the ninth paragraph.

As I initially read the review, I thought: “This is remarkable. I’m reading a film review that isn’t reviewing the film.”

Rowles’ first five Texas Chainsaw 3D review paragraphs consisted of: what he believed the demographic of the film to be, who a person seeing the film would see the film with, who a person seeing the film would be sitting next to in the movie theater, more bloviation on who the people seeing the film are, their recreational activities, and their futures.

I spoke out against the inclusion of such irrelevancies in a film review in this article: 7 Movie Review Writing Mistakes a Film Critic Should Avoid.

Two Types of Film Reviews

There are two schools of thought on writing reviews that I have found: a.) there are reviews that contain spoilers because the writer can’t talk about the film without discussing key moments in the film and b.) reviews that discuss the film without going into specifics. Both are good reviews, both have their virtues, their pluses, and their minuses.

Rowles’ review seems as though it falls into Group A because of all its spoilers but it actually resides in the latter review category.

No Spoiler Warnings

From applying to film critic associations, I have learned something very valuable: Alerting the reader to a potential plot spoiler is considered good form, the latter is considered bad form. Why? Without a warning, a person reading your review may stumble into a small, medium, or large plot spoiler, something they did not want divulged to them before seeing the film.

Rowles’ sixth paragraph (Film Synopsis and Spoilers Begin) began with such spoilers without the least bit of warning (Mild Spoilers ahead):

For now, Texas Chainsaw 3D is exactly what you need: A shitty horror movie where skinny bitches get cut up, the frat boys end up in in pieces, and the rednecks wind up in the meat grinders. It’s not a great — or even good — movie, but there’s some new kills, a cool goth chick in the center of it all, and some new mythology to geek out with your friends over.

It is because of reviews of this nature that I read other people’s reviews very careful before I see a film.

As I mentioned in How to Write a Movie Review, reciting the film’s plot synopsis is lazy film review writing e.g. the following (Major Spoilers ahead):

Specifically, the prologue is set in the 1970s, right after the events of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After ole Leatherface waves his chainsaw at the Last Girl, who gets away in a pick-up truck, the townsmen close in on the Sawyer farmhouse and burn it to the ground. All the Sawyers are burned alive except one woman, who escapes with her child. The baby is abducted by one of the redneck townsfolk. He kills the mom, and — along with his wife — raises the child as his own. Twenty some odd years later, the Sawyer matriarch passes, and ends up leaving her mansion — where all the Sawyers are also buried — to that child, Heather (Alexandra Daddario).

How is this a review of the film? In that paragraph, Rowles told the reader key events in the film without reviewing those events. He regurgitated what he saw on-screen to the reader without making that recitation significant to his review. How were these events presented? What was effective about them? What was ineffective about them? What type of cinematography was used? How was it scored? What was the acting like in them? How did this portion of the film effect the second and third act of the film? Was it an example of good story-telling? Was it a highlight in scripting for the film, was it an average moment, or was it mediocre?

The reader of this review will never know. This portion of the review was all recitation.

If you are going to divulge a key moment in the film in your review, at least make that disclosure advantageous to your review and your argument. This portion of Rowles’ review did neither. Instead, it was the end result of a memory exercise. An overall argument for or against this film was completely absent from this paragraph.

Another spoiler-rich paragraph followed that gave away the remainder of the film’s surprises without reviewing them, their quality, or their substance (Major Spoilers ahead):

Heather goes on a road trip with her friends to collect her inheritance, that old Sawyer mansion, but soon discovers that good ole Leatherface — Jed Sawyer, a 6’5 menace with the brain of an eight year old who wears other people’s faces over his own — is living in a basement. One of the dumb friends lets him out, and Leatherface — chainsaw in hand — goes on another killing spree.

The Actual Review

Then there was this (Mild Spoiler ahead):

But there’s a fun little twist in the end, one that is somewhat predictable but satisfying all the same, and it’ll leave you and your friends with plenty to chew on and discuss

This was the second moment in the review where Rowles actually reviewed Texas Chainsaw 3D (the first being: “A shitty horror movie”). Moreover, he talked about the twist at the end of the film without divulging the actual twist, a nod towards the second type of film review.

He finished with:

That is to say, Texas Chainsaw 3D is not a good movie, but you never expected it to be, did you? But you’re happy enough; it gets the job done, kills a couple of hours, makes you squirm a couple of times, and gives you something to talk about at IHOP afterwards. Not a bad night, not a bad night at all.

It does get better, but my advice to you is to appreciate how good it is now.

So his actual review of the film amounted to: “A shitty horror movie…But there’s a fun little twist in the end, one that is somewhat predictable but satisfying all the same, and it’ll leave you and your friends with plenty to chew on and discuss…Texas Chainsaw 3D is not a good movie”.

Rowles was consist though. His review ended as it began. Perhaps it was fitting to the film in question. If Texas Chainsaw 3D was vapid, perhaps Rowles thought that his review should mirror it in quality, structure, and be equally as empty and substanceless.

In Conclusion

Film reviews are an opportunity to express yourself and your views on a film, its genre, its director, its actors, its score, the shape and look of the film, its themes, its message, its triumphs, and its failures in the written word.

Looking down on a film genre’s potential audience is not film criticism. I do not know what it is. I do know that they were not what you watched for 92 minutes in a movie theater.

When all you have to say about a film is two sentences long, I would abstain from writing the review (unless it is on Twitter, Weibo, via Text, or on Tumblr).

If your intent is to use those two sentence as a launch pad for your thoughts on the film, that is different. When your thoughts begin and end in two sentences and they are subsequently surrounded by observational frosting, you have not written a review, you have written an observation piece, an “essay” that has been mislabeled as a “film review”.

Do not let your movie review be a satiric waste of time to your readers. Make it useful to them, informative, give them something for their minds to chew and their mouths to conjecture over. Don’t give them fluff in the guise of a review. You will not retain people looking to read quality film criticism that way.

Source: Pajiba, Wikipedia

About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started ProMovieBlogger to educate others on what he had learned through trial and error. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook (http://film-book.com), he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He also created and runs Trending Awards.com.

  • I know that you don't need to tell me that you write the most amazing articles and film critiques. Just thought I'd let you know 🙂

  • 7poundbag_Com

    I would like to know if you are open to critiquing my reviews of movies

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