Reviewed by Heather Wixson
Starring Nikki Reed, Keith David, Noah Segan, Cody Kasch, Betsy Russell, Brad Dourif, Cherilyn Wilson, Michael Bailey Smith
Written and directed by Deon Taylor
In Chain Letter we meet six friends who receive a mysterious electronic chain letter stating “break the chain, lose a life” sent by a sadistic maniac (Smith) who hunts down and violently kills teenagers who fail to forward his online chain letter. And as the young teens die one after another, it’s up to Jessie (Reed) to figure out who the Chain Man is and where the threat started before she becomes a victim just like the rest of her friends.
Originally filmed in 2007, Chain Letter’s release is a long time coming for writer/director Taylor, who made the film independently before his career started taking off with other genre projects including Dead Tone and the television series “Night Tales”. Being the first feature for Taylor, while the film itself has some technical issues and gets bogged down with about 10 minutes of unnecessary subplot, overall it’s an ambitious project where the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The flick starts off with a bang as we see the Chain Man readying another victim who gets chained to their parent’s cars, and true to the horror movie formula, the parents are none the wiser that their offspring is in any sort of jeopardy, let alone by their own devices. From there the movie takes audiences back to where it all started with Neil (Kasch) getting a harassing chain letter while playing an online game and his bitchy sister, Rachel (Wilson), instigating trouble by forwarding the letter to their unsuspecting friends. And since most of us have tired of the idea of an electronic chain letter, most don’t even think to forward it on, making them the prime targets of the menacing Chain Man.
Once the teens figure out that the rising body count of their friends is linked to the message, it becomes a game of cat and mouse between the teens and the killer as well as an exploration of whether or not you could sign someone’s death warrant by forwarding them a message like that just so you could make it out alive.
Usually in these kinds of flicks I tend to dislike the “young Hollywood” crowd, but everyone held my attention, and even though Reed is probably the best known out of the group, I would say it was Kasch as the awkward geek and Segan as Reed’s potential love interest, Dante, that stole the show. What is funny to me is that the adult cast (including David, Russell, and Dourif) actually were the weak links in Chain Letter (pun intended), not that their performances were necessarily terrible, just more like unnecessary.
Back in December Dread Central met with Taylor on a set visit where he promised to deliver some really amazing kills for fans — and I can say that he definitely delivered on that promise. While nothing that is necessarily game-changing like you saw in films such as The Thing or An American Werewolf in London, Chain Letter succeeds in providing fans some gleefully bloody fun at the expense of the cast, which is due to the special effects work of JD Nielsen. For an independent project with a very small budget, the kills here look better than I’ve seen in a lot of big budget flicks lately.
As I mentioned before, there are a few parts of the movie that didn’t work for me, including a subplot with the creepy HS teacher Mr. Smirker (Dourif) and a few technical glitches here and there that made my detail-obsessed brain get a little fidgety, but I think what Chain Letter demonstrates is that despite those issues, Taylor loves the horror genre and still knows how to have fun but keep things gritty and intense at the same time. That’s a difficult balance for a lot of horror directors, but Taylor clearly has an eye for what brings modern horror fans to theaters, and he’s a talent to keep a close eye on in the coming years.
Chain Letter opens in limited theatrical release on October 1st. For more information on the flick, check out the official Chain Letter website.
3 1/2 out of 5
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