If you want a quick lesson as to what has gone wrong with horror films in the last decade, then sit down and watch Chain Letter. I’m sure this wasn’t the intent of director Deon Taylor, “the prolific writer and idea generator” behind Chain Letter (or so his IMDb page claims), but this is about all you’re likely to get out of this sad excuse for splatter.
What Mr. Idea Generator has generated are lots of other people’s ideas, and not very good ones at that. Taylor has cobbled together a movie that borrows from every idiotic meat-on-the-hoof teen slasher flick and every tactless exercise in torture porn. Mostly, the movie lifts from the Saw franchise—from Taylor’s bizarre choices in camerawork (like a beautifully goofy and superfluous use of zoom) and faux attempts at style to Chain Letter‘s twist centered around a fractured timeline. Let’s not bother with the fact that this last example was already in not one, but two Saw movies.
Chain Letter involves your usual gang of twentysomethings playing affluent high-school students. The students are being terrorized by a muscle-bound, tattoo-sporting meathead (Michael Bailey Smith, The Hills Have Eyes II) masked in what appears to be a dirty tube sock. You see, this madman has e-mailed the kids a chain letter, and when the letter isn’t forwarded per his instructions, the recipients are subsequently offed in various gory fashions, but not before occasional fits of nudity. There’s a good bit of cheesy gore and creative-death type scares, but it’s never much fun since Taylor seems to feel like he has got a real movie on his hands. Everything is handled in the most unpleasant and humorless way imaginable.
The reason, it turns out, that this man—credited as “Chain Man,” like some bad Mega Man boss—has targeted students is because he is part of some Luddite cult out to make a point of the dangers of technology. How offing a bunch of bubble-headed teens doesn’t scale the heights of inefficiency is never explained. Of course, all of this is supposed to be topical, but the movie never really has its sights set on anything in particular and mostly just comes across as preying on crackpot paranoia.
It certainly doesn’t help that the film goes in an out of plot points with zero regard for pacing or continuity. The subplot involving the detective (Keith David) on the case is the worst bit handled in this regard; he seems to be thrown in and out of the story at whim. To make matters worse, his character is drawn to be so incredibly blundering and obtuse that he makes Nicolas Cage in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans (2010) look like the pinnacle of constabulary competence. Finally, and blessedly, the film just kind of ends, hurrying through its sudden twist that is at least good for some unintentional laughs.
Chain Letter is one big mess of an excuse for a horror movie, made by people with no respect for the genre, let alone any means of effectively working within it. It’s a half-baked attempt at juvenile titillation and will find a nice home in $5 WalMart dump bins across the U.S. soon enough. Rated R for strong bloody sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity.