This one looked promising.
Okay, sure, it was gonna be a torture-porn-style Saw ripoff with a flimsy premise — teenagers (played by actors and actresses in their late 20s, if not early 30s in some cases), get a chain letter in their email inboxes. If they pass it along, they live. If they don’t, they get killed. Gruesomely. Plus, it’s got Brad Dourif, Keith David, and sorta-“it”-girl Nikki Reed. What’s not to like, right?
Unfortunately, that bare-bones plot outline I just threw out there is every bit as flimsy as the actual story (if you can call anything this skeletal an actual story at all) holding co-writer/director Deon Taylor’s 2010 release Chain Letter together.
If you’re in this whole thing for the gore and nothing else, then hey, I have to say this flick delivers. But while some (okay, plenty) of horror films are rightly accused of having one-dimensional characterization, that would actually be a big improvement over what’s on display here. The characters in this film aren’t even fleshed out enough for us to decide whether we like them, hate them, or just plain don’t give a fuck about them, and how often can you say a film is so poorly written that you don’t even know enough about the people in it to decide whether or not they bore you?
Taylor and his crew focus the entirety of their energy on coming up with graphic, sadistic kill scenes, and while they succeed in creating plenty of those, there’s just nothing else going on here to even maintain any audience interest, and honestly, if you don’t care if the characters get killed or not, what’s the point in seeing them die?
A decent cast is laid to waste here both figuratively and literally. David and Dourif, for their parts, seem to know they’re in a grad-A clunker and mail in their seriously underwritten performances. David doesn’t get to be a bad-ass, Dourif doesn’t get to be much of a weirdo, and even Nikki reed doesn’t get to do what she does best, that being take her clothes off. You honestly have to wonder how badly they all needed the money.
I’m all for mean-spirited, nasty, brutish grotesquerie (or however you spell that word), honestly I am, but not when it falls this far short of its potential. Chain Letter sure sounds like it’s got pretty much everything you’d want in this sort of a movie, but there has to be something holding all the morbidity together, or at least trying to give the impression that the filmmakers give a damn about,, you know, telling a story, but Taylor’s clearly got a one-track mind — kill the guy or gal on the screen and move on to the next one. Take a fucking number, folks.
Chain Letter was rolled out in limited release on about 400 screens nationwide and survived exactly one week. It was released on DVD and (I think, at least) Blu-ray shortly thereafter from New Films Cinema in a package that contains no extras whatsoever apart from the theatrical trailer. Not that it deserves any kind of deluxe treatment or anything. You can safely hit delete on this Chain Letter and move on.