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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CHAIN LETTER -- DVD review by porfle

In the dark stalker flick CHAIN LETTER (2010), five twenty-something high school kids discover that modern technology isn't necessarily their friend. 

The film opens with a crackerjack pre-titles death scene which sets the morbid tone of the story.  Switch to a bustling high school campus where teens text while walking together, have continuous music blasting in their earbuds, and scoff when a creepy teacher (Brad Dourif, whose slogan could be "We do creepy right") warns them that there's a dark side to the pervasive technology they enjoy so much. 

Going down the usual check list of stereotypes, we find that our main characters include the jock, the nerd, the rebel, the good girl, the bitchy girl, and the black guy.  When the nerd receives a spooky chain letter on his computer one night instructing him to forward it to five other people, under penalty of death, the unlucky five naturally ignore it.  The only questions now are--when and in what order will they die, and how gruesome will their demises be?

Although there are a few false-alarm "gotcha" scares at first, complete with piercing musical stings, the first elaborate murder setpiece pays off with some quick cuts of extreme gore.  A second victim gets his top half seperated from his bottom half, and later on another one gets "the hook", so to speak.  Rabid gorehounds may find these moments to be too few and far between, though an unsettling mood of paranoia sets in as the other teens figure out the "chain letter" angle and start looking over their shoulders.

In addition to using modern technology to stalk and terrorize his victims, the killer favors the creative use of actual chains during his diabolical misdeeds.  He lacks the playfulness of a Michael Myers or the wit of a Freddy Kruger--and is definitely no Jason Voorhees--but strikes an imposing enough figure nonetheless.  What he lacks in personality is compensated for by an interesting motive, which the investigating homicide detective (Keith David) eventually pieces together. 

The nice girl, Jessie, is played by Nikki Reed (TWILIGHT), who makes a likable lead.  Noah Segan, so effective as the twisted "J.T." in DEADGIRL, plays Dante, the member of the ill-fated five who is so totally out there that he (gasp) doesn't even own a cell phone.  As the two homicide cops, Keith David is joined by former teen-movie queen Betsy Russell, currently best-known for her roles in the SAW films.  Comedian Charles Fleischer also makes a brief appearance.

Direction (by Deon Taylor) and visuals are alternately gritty and TV-commercial slick, with some pretty well-staged suspense scenes.  The soundtrack is ear-splitting at times--I thought the mood in some scenes might've benefitted from less noise rather than the "louder is better" approach. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  There are no subtitles and the sole extra consists of the film's trailer.

To us no-cell-phone Luddites, the atmosphere of inescapable technology eroding our privacy may be the queasiest aspect of CHAIN LETTER.  As a horror flick, it isn't one of the scariest or most shocking splatterfests I've seen, but it's definitely a respectable addition to the genre.  If nothing else, you won't soon forget that ending.

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