Chain Letter (2010)

October 10, 2010 - 6:50pm | Johnny D
  Tags: Betsy Russell, chain letter, Cherilyn Wilson, Clifton Powell, Cody Kasch, Deon Taylor, Keith David, Matthew Cohen, Michael Bailey Smith, Michael J. Pagan, Nikki Reed, Noah Segan, slasher, teens

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Deon Taylor
Nikki Reed, Noah Segan, Keith David, Betsy Russell, Michael Bailey Smith, Matthew Cohen, Cody Kasch, Michael J. Pagan, Cherilyn Wilson, Clifton Powell

When a movie sits on a shelf for over two years, it’s safe to make the assumption that either A.) the filmmakers are holding out for a distribution deal that doesn’t violently violate their assholes, or B.) it’s the definition of reprehensible shit.  I was expecting to go with the latter, especially when you think over the fact that the only reason it probably got a release now is because star Nikki Reed was featured in the much maligned (by most horror fans at least) Twilight films.  Shock of all shockers, Chain Letter is a perfectly competent little movie.  Where it mostly suffers sadly is being a product of its time.
The horror genre is a testy little fucker.  A subgenre that was topping the box office charts a year ago may have already gone out of style in favor of a new approach.  Having been filmed in 2007, Chain Letter’s death scenes and some of its shooting style have clearly been influenced by the likes of Saw and Hostel.  It’s sometimes gritty and violent, and many may even categorized it as “torture porn”, though not me because I despise that term and don’t consider it a legitimate subgenre.
The plot, revolving around a serial killer who targets teens when they don’t pass on a chain letter via email, is a good concept for a film, but having been lensed so long ago some of the technologies have already changed.  For instance, the kids all talk about the myspace like it’s the cool thing to do.  Yet we all know that the facebook has taken over as the mack daddy of social
 networking sites.  The film relies heavily on the fact that technology has
 completely taken over our lives and the art of person to person communication has all but disappeared.  This could have been a pressing contemporary statement a few years back, but seeing it today just feels stale and done.
Aside from the now dated material, Chain Letter suffers from typical, lower budget horror issues.  The acting variesacross the board, which doesn’t help a script that’s devoid of any actual character development.  Some of the more interesting characters are killed off way too fast, leaving us with the more typical, lame leads.  Nikki Reed is absolutely hard-on worthy to look at and has constantly delivered great performances, but there’s just not too much for her to do here.  It’s always a pleasure 
seeing Brad Dourif in anything, so I will dare not speak ill of Mr. Charles Lee Ray himself.  But I will fault the filmmakers for putting the great Betsy Russel in their film only to have her wasted as a minor character that adds nothing to the plot.
Where Chain Letter does work are the moments where it stops pretending that it’s Saw 8 and embraces being an overall fun, blood filled slasher film.  The death effects are top notch and really shine when they’re not surrounded by unnecessary torture.  I watch a LOT of low budget horror, and most of them just completely fail at producing a professional looking final product in one way or another.  Chain Letter, however, has all of its technical aspects in check.  It has a high level of production value that rivals most mainstream movies and helps me look past its shortcomings and appreciate that the filmmakers put in this kind of time and effort.
The main aspect that can kill or save a horror film is the pacing.  Luckily Chain Letter moves swiftly through its victims and finishes before hitting the 90 minute mark, never giving me time to check my watch, or even piss out my overpriced giant soda.  Director Deon Taylor works great with cinematographer Phillip Lee to create a beautiful, saturated look for the film, perfectly accented by the aid of the fall foliage.  It creates a chilling and isolated atmosphere that works well for the subject matter.

With expectations set to a critical low, Chain Letter ended up being a decently proficient film that works best when it stops taking itself so seriously and just lets the audience have fun.  The shortcomings are in ample supply, but sometimes forgivable given the apparent amount of effort that went into creating a polished product.

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Johnny D's picture
Johnny D




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