Cast: Nikki Reed, Keith David, Brad Dourif
I Love horror movies. I have been watching them pretty much all of my life and have developed a great immunity to certain qualities the genre typically embraces. Bad acting, ignorant characters and cookie cutter plots are just a few staples found in horror movies that I usually can turn a blind eye to. Even those gory films that go way over the top have been known to entertain me. Then there are films like "Chain Letter" which take horror movies a step back by cannibalizing the genre. Rather than go with the tried and true (or tired and true) slasher, Writers Michael J. Pagan (who also has a role in the film) and Deon Taylor (who directed the movie too) tried some sort of hybrid between slasher and torture porn with an "Urban Legend"/"One Missed Call" type of modern hook. "Chain Letter" throws all of those concepts into a melting pot to bore the holy hell out of anyone who dares watch.
The premise is simple, Neil Conners (Cody Kasch) receives an email that basically tells him to forward to five people or he will die. He complies, so the film has its foundation. The recipients are Neil's cyber-whore sister Rachael (Cherilyn Wilson), the muscle car loving Dante (Noah Segan), token black guy Michael (Michael J. Pagan), bitter jock Johnny (Matt Cohen) and smart, lovable Jessie (Nikki Reed). Naturally, the group responds in different ways which starts the string of murders. Those who do not forward the message are hunted down and killed by a chain wielding psychopath who appears to be a juiced up version of Sloth from "The Goonies." It is up to Detective Jim Crenshaw (Keith David) to crack the case before this viral message takes more innocent lives.
Outside of the fact that the film was shot well, I can only hate on "Chain Letter." For a 2010 film that centers on technology and cyber stalking, the use of MySpace and AOL IM chimes is WAAAY out-of-date. Then there is the plot. How convenient is it that Mr. Smirker (Brad Dourif) just happens to be giving the most pointless lecture EVER on the dangers of technology? It is the type of forced discussion that leads to the stereotypical student making some 'clever' sexual comment and delivering a high five to a nearby classmate. It also sets up plenty of horrible narrative found throughout the film. The lazy story doesn't even begin to tell how many clichés and shots are ripped off from other horror movies. That bathtub scene with Nancy in "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is pretty much here. Even with no glove poking out of the water, it is certainly a shot stolen from Wes Craven. Since the film riffs on the Torture Porn subgenre, why not give Betsy Russell (star of multiple "Saw" films) a bit role in "Chain Letter?" To top things off, I didn't care about any of the characters. They all come across as crass and self-absorbed, save a little love for the work Nikki Reed did in her role as Jesse. One can only hope Reed returns to indie dramas like "Thirteen" rather than continue to bother with "Saw" rip-offs and glittery vampires.
The 1080p/AVC encoded transfer is decent at best. When I mentioned that the film was shot well, it was due to the overall gloss of "Cahin Letter." The movie appears to be a higher caliber than a lot of low budget horror films. It is obvious that Deon Taylor at least tried to use some of the estimated $5,000,000 budget on some decent cameras and lighting. Unfortunately, the transition to Blu-ray is not a smooth one. There are some compression artifacts and a bit more grain than most modern horror movies typically have. On the plus side, there is a decent level of detail with the film and the blue, dreary lighting helps make sure things are always seen onscreen.
Horror films really need strong audio and the DTS-HD 5.1 track does a good job balancing dialogue with those cheap scares we all know and love. Even with this balance, the dialogue level is soft. Never drowned out by effects or music, I was able to keep up with lines being delivered, but wished the dialogue was just a bit louder. There is a lot of rain in this movie. A full bodied DTS rainstorm is a great way to set the mood in any scary movie. Along with the rain, certain effects and music makes it to the rear channels to provide a bit of ambient sound.
The only extra feature on this disc is the film's trailer.
If I wasn't obvious enough – don't buy or even rent this movie. If I were sent a chain letter that made me choose between forwarding the letter to five people and watching this film again or death, I would delete the email and wait for the Grim Reaper to come calling. Before writing me off with the whole, "He just doesn't like that type of movie," keep in mind that I am a fan of "Saw," "Hostel," "Martyrs," and many low budget horror movies. I have been around the block multiple times. This one just isn't worth the stop.