Nothing screams hackneyed repurposing like using a Nietzschean citation as preface to very non-Nietzschean drivel. And that’s precisely what Chain Letter does, as if to make us aware, with the subtlety and finesse of a bumper sticker, that its intentions are good—even allegorical.
This mediocre horror trite fest is yet another tale of 24-year-old actors playing wealthy, seemingly parent-less high school teens getting killed off one by one. It doesn’t bother to make the logic behind the order of killings a part of the plot: Young people these days are so obsessed with personal technology (tethered to their clunky 2005 flip phones, apparently) that someone decides to punish them with a text-messaging lethal virus. Whoever receives the chain-text and deletes it, or doesn’t forward it to four people, is murdered. The mystery killer’s weapon of choice is, in a botched attempt at clever literalization, steel chains. And because the killer can’t sever everyone’s limbs simultaneously, people get the text messages at different times even when they were all sent at once (they must have T-Mobile).
The characters are more like polite versions of Ken and Barbie dolls (the Cute Jock, the Very Cute Jock, the Video Game Nerd, Hot Girl Number One, Hot Girl Number Two). The female stock tends to get naked in bathtubs (nothing spells “There is a serial killer in my suburb!” than taking a bubble bath with the windows open) and ogled by a gratuitously salivating camera before they die gruesomely. The males just die gruesomely. Whatever is left of an authorial voice from this formulaic silliness seems to share the naïve technophobia of grandparents dumfounded that their grandkids could ever meet strangers on the Internet (and send them “inappropriate” pictures!). The film sees no problem in glancing at the naked breasts of a supposedly 17-year-old and then turning her into a torso-less fountainhead spewing blood from every orifice, yet sterilizes any sexual language that might come out of her mouth (“He sent me a picture of his ‘you know what’!”).
The figure of the dumb-but-hot, one-dimensional heterosexual teenager is a sad given in American television and cinema, which is made all the more unpalatable for anyone who has seen something like the strikingly protean 2009 Irish film Cherrybomb, the British TV teen drama Skins, or Murilo Salles’s Camila Jam, the latter featuring an oft-naked young woman obsessed with technology, but never a camera more interested in her nude body than in the anxieties it contains.
I suppose we can look at Chain Letter as a fantasy of revenge-come-true against the scores of loud teenage girls who use our local Starbucks or movie theaters as their dorm room, verbosely deluding themselves into their own fantasies of couture-wearing, reality-show-performing grandeur. You know the type, blabbing away their self-absorbed soliloquies on their phones for the entire subway car to hear, making it impossible for the rest of us to finish a single paragraph of Beyond Good and Evil.