Chain Letter is a teen slasher film founded on a premise so woefully thin, so painfully underdeveloped, and so poorly executed, it’s as if the filmmakers went ahead with only an idea instead of a finished screenplay. I honestly don’t know how to describe this movie, except to say that it doesn’t really offer much of anything to any potential audience. Fans of gore will be disappointed by the limited number of scenes depicting it. Fans of mystery will be put off by the plot, which shows not the slightest traces of cleverness, suspense, or aptness of thought. Fans of naked girls will be underwhelmed by the film’s single shot of toplessness, the context of which is not sexual. Fans of comedy will find that there isn’t a single laugh to be had in any of its relentlessly dreary ninety-six minutes – save, maybe, for the occasional incredulous chuckle, otherwise known as the bad laugh.
This is not merely a bad movie. It’s utterly incompetent. It’s also one of the most boring slasher films of any I’ve recently seen, and probably less recently seen. Of all the things I expect to feel watching a movie like this, bored is not one of them. Seriously, how does that happen? Shouldn’t I feel something as I witness a teen’s face being sloughed off with a set of chains, or when another teen is torn in half because her legs are chained to two cars driving in opposite directions? Possibly, if I’m actually made to care about the characters. This is not something the movie even tries to accomplish.
The plot, as it were, centers on a group of high school students – all faceless, disposable teen victims awaiting their cue to die violently – who each receive an anonymous chain letter via text and/or e-mail. Attached, the sender includes an ominous warning: Break a link, lose a life. None of them take it very seriously. Some are even bold enough to delete the letter. Others nonchalantly forward it to other people, leaving their fates left to the imagination. The fates of the leads are left to a hulking brute whose face is obscured by mummy-like bandages and whose weapon of choice is chains. Specially made chains, if I remember correctly; the detective assigned to track him down (Keith David) notices that something resembling a bar code is branded on one of the links.
What’s both hilarious and appalling about this movie is that it actually tries to send a message, namely that technology has become a beast that cannot be tamed. Driving this point home is shot after shot of teenagers dependent on cell phones and computers. Who, oh who, could be so militantly anti-technology that they’re willing to go on a teenage killing spree? Is it the work of one person, or a cult? Part of the mystery is linked (pun definitely intended) to cameo appearances by Brad Dourif and Charles Fleischer, who both do just about everything they can to make their characters as creepy and unpleasant as possible. I grant you that they were probably directed that way. I’ll give you Dourif; he is, after all, the voice of Chucky. But Fleischer? Perhaps I’m remembering Who Framed Roger Rabbit too fondly to consider the possibilities.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t named any of the teen characters or the actors who play them. There really isn’t a need. You will forget them the instant you walk out the theater. Nay, the instant their scenes come to an end. Because of this, I should stop referring to them as characters, for a true character is a person you can respond to, identify with, have feelings for, or any combination thereof. The kids in Chain Letter are like saran-wrapped pieces of meat sold at a supermarket – the product is on display, but there’s no hint that it was ever a part of a living thing. We aren’t made to empathize with anyone, which makes it impossible to generate an authentic horrific reaction from the audience.
As hard as I try, I can’t think of a good reason why Chain Letter had to be made. It doesn’t even work as escapist horror entertainment. It tells a story that makes absolutely no sense. It’s populated by actors who genuinely seem disinterested in the project, as if they knew they had just about nothing to work with. It’s photographed and edited with all the care and precision of a film shot over the weekend. Perhaps its greatest offense is that it makes virtually no effort to be scary, not even when one of the people onscreen is being horribly murdered. Liking this movie would require much more than a lowering of your standards; you would have to have no standards at all. In the annals of teen slasher films, few have been this bizarre, inexplicable, and off-putting. I’m sorry for ever having seen it.