Now available on DVD
Nikki Reed as Jessie
Michael J. Pagan as Michael
Cody Kasch as Neil
Cherilyn Wilson as Rachel
Brad Dourif as Mr. Smirker
Keith David as Detective Crenshaw
Directed by Deon Taylor
Chain Letter has a serious identity crisis. It opens with a Nietzsche quote and seems convinced that it has something important to say. It also features a gratuitous shower scene in less than 3 minutes (not to mention even more gratuitous nudity later on) along with copious blood and guts. A balance is never achieved and the more serious it tries to be, the more unintentional laughter it generates.
Set in “the technological capital of America” with no evidence whatsoever to support the claim other than a really popular cyber cafÃ© (those still exist?), the movie attempts to address technology, communication, and privacy while slicing and dicing the standard generic teens.
Though they were probably more common 10-15 years ago, a chain letter (actually email) finds its way to computer nerd Neil (Cody Kasch). The unsettling message states that if the chain is broken, you lose your life. Neil’s sister Rachel (Cherilyn Wilson) quickly shoots it off to the requisite 5 people, not taking any chances.
Of course, not everyone shares Rachel’s desire to continue the chain. This does not sit well with someone who apparently uses a chain email and mass murder to spread an anti-technology message. He disposes of the chain breakers in brutal fashion (the extremely nasty kills don’t hold back on the gore and are quite effective).
Along with Neil, Rachel, and kindly Detective Crenshaw (Keith David), Jessie (Twilight‘s Nikki Reed) tries to figure out who is killing their friends and how to stop them.
While a decent slasher rises to the surface occasionally, ultimately Chain Letter falls victim to its heavy-handedness. Lines like “there was a time with no cell phones” are presented as if they were original and provocative. Characters have really trite debates about privacy and the usefulness of technology. It is raining in just about every scene, as if that somehow will add moodiness the script completely lacks.
There are also far too many scenes featuring news footage and people sitting in front of a computer. Adding insult to injury, the dreaded boo scares. People are constantly popping up out of nowhere and sneaking up on someone in the dark, always accompanied by insanely loud music.
The supporting cast elevates the material, led by the always welcome Keith. Brad Dourif can always be counted on to ham it up in entertaining fashion, and as a cynical high school teacher, he does not disappoint. Finally, the exceptionally creepy Charles Fleischer, who freaks out Jake Gyllenhaal in his basement so wonderfully in Zodiac, shows up for a few minutes at the end to serve the same purpose.
A rather interesting idea is mentioned near the conclusion. It hints at something different than just a crazy guy being responsible for the mayhem. Sadly, it is not explored and disappears as quickly as it’s introduced.
Intermittently fun, but too serious for its own good, Chain Letter makes the mistake of thinking it has important things to say in between scenes of people having their face ripped apart by a large chain. It doesn’t. That scene is pretty damn cool though.