Chain Letter (2011)

Chain Letter is savage, brutal, well acted and thoroughly enjoyable. It is heavy-handed in its thematic delivery and clearly begging for a franchise, but it is definitely worth a watch. Brutally good fun.

Technology is bad. Really bad. And Chain Letter would like to prove to you how. When giant computer nerd Neil Conners (Cody Kasch) forwards an e-mailed chain letter demanding the receiver sends it on to five other people or die horribly, he inadvertently sets off a serial killing rampage on the local teen population.

The chain letter is real. Anyone who deletes it instantly becomes a walking homicide, and our giant brutish killer likes to be elaborate in his death dealing. Elaborate, as long as it involves lots and lots of chains. Detective Jim Crenshaw (Keith David) quickly gets involved and it’s a race against time and technology to defeat this psychotic murderer before he cuts another link from his blood-soaked chain…

Chain Letter is brutal. Whether you perceive this as a positive or a negative, this is certainly fact. People are stabbed, snapped in half, ripped up and smashed to a bloody pulp; it is surprisingly gruesome and fantastically well done. One poor bugger has some metal chains pulled against his face until they literally crack and grind into his skin and through his skull – it is a harsh and nasty film.

For an obvious genre flick that formulaically dances through the slasher film motions, Chain Letter surprises in both direction and script. Deon Taylor’s direction is smooth and solid throughout, throwing in the occasional smart shot to impress but not overwhelm the audience with style. The script, penned by Diana Erwin, director Deon Taylor and actor Michael J. Pagan, is surprisingly adroit, whipping out smart characterizations and some pithy dialogue, ensuring the pace is sharp and always exciting.

Credit has to be given to Brad Dourif as the genuinely creepy Mr. Smirker (yep, Smirker), who only appears to shamelessly vomit the movie’s theme at us and occasionally suggest that a dark pedophilia is underlying his kindly school-teacher. Keith David also shines as the immensely likeable cop, and both add the sense of gravitas this film desperately needed. The other actors are genuinely decent in their given roles, but it is Dourif and David that plant the film in a reality that isn’t exclusively prancing through 90210 territory.

The overriding flaws with Chain Letter are two fold; the theme and the franchise begging. The theme / message of Chain Letter is startlingly obvious and as subtle as being smacked in the face with a computer monitor – modern technology is really really bad. The invasiveness rapes privacy and kills potential and blah blah blah etc etc…. Sadly this is something we’ve all heard before on numerous occasions, in Saw and Untraceable and My Little Eye. Even Die Hard 4.0 used it!

The Anti-techno school teacher played by Dourif tells his class “Your generation only sees the good side of technology” and although this may be true, Chain Letter fails to provide a balanced argument. It simply patronizes and dictates, and although some may shrug this away (it’s a horror film for Christ’s sake!) it is genuinely intrusive in the creators’ ham-fisted dedication to make the message as obvious as possible.

Secondly, the film wants a franchise, or at least a sequel. This is horribly obvious and the ending begs for more, although that isn’t necessarily a negative – hey, I’d love to see Chain Letter 2 – but it does leave a distinct openness in it’s finale that you desperately want to fill with something. Like a conclusion, maybe. Or an ending.

Luckily the pacy direction, smart scripting and solid acting makes Chain Letter not just another slasher flick. It is exciting, genuinely intriguing and thoroughly brutal… and definitely worth a watch for gorehounds. One scene in particular – involving two cars and someone chained in a garage – will stay with me for a long time. Chain Letter is brutally inventive.

So… bring on Chain Letter 2. Maybe this time the message can be about how awesome technology is instead of how absolutely godawfully terrible it is. After all, without technology, you wouldn’t be reading this…

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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