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Chain Letter (2010)
Director: Deon Taylor

review by Matthew S. Dent

Serial killers have become a modern day obsession of western culture. In reality, they're fairly rare, and deeply complex. In fiction, however, they're the ready-made arch-villains, the darlings of the crime thriller and horror genres - and no medium does fictional serial killer quite like film.

The main structural problem that faces serial killer films is that in real life such criminals often act randomly, or are so deranged that a sane mind can make no sense of motive. And random doesn't work so well in films - so we end up with hopelessly complex motivations and methods which would never work or exist in reality, and thus serve nothing but dramatic effect.

Cue Chain Letter, telling a story which sees a mysterious, masked serial killer bumping off a bunch of American high school 'kids' (played by actors and actresses well into their twenties, naturally), after they don't forward a chain email. And if that sounds ridiculous, just wait. All of the would-be grisly murder scenes are executed using a chain, in some fashion. Imaginative!

I'm really not sure what this was supposed to be. It has the feel of another slasher film, watching one moron after another get bumped off. But then it tries for the kind of paranoid technophobia of Enemy Of The State and that thoroughly confuses matters. It doesn't know what it really wants to say, but it knows that it's very important and profound, and you'd better know it, too.

And this fundamental confusion pervades the whole thing. Take the script... The dialogue is so awkward, so unrealistic, that it can't be envisioned coming out of the mouth of a real person. It has the feeling of trying to cram major plot explanation into each line - probably trying to compensate for the utter lack of sense the plot makes. At times it got so bad that I might have well have been listening to an audio book.

The poor story construction is epitomised by its reliance on clumsily cut flashbacks to underscore key moments, and more or less signpost every plot twist by making it so immediately obvious that it's more than a little insulting. It treats its audience like idiots, possibly because it has a low level of intelligence itself, but the whole experience is one of bewilderment.

Overall, this was never going to be a sparkling gem amongst its peers. It's a run of the mill, low-budget, would-be slasher. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, the script is lazily written, and the plot is holey enough to resemble a colander. The phrase I think best sums it up is 'a less interesting version of Saw. And given that I regard the Saw franchise as the ultimate in pre-packaged unimaginative, lazy horror, that's quite an accolade.

Chain Letter



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