Chain Letter Doesn't Make Even a Little Sense

Hey, remember when I was complaining about the terrible anticlimacism of Chain Letter, well, while I was typing that up I noticed everything else was wrong with the movie as well, so let's take a look at some of it, shall we?

1 - There's parental negligence, and then there's just bad writing.

As mentioned the last time around, the film opens with its ending, as the main character is murdered by her parents. On first viewing this sequence works as a heavy-handed message about the lack of interpersonal connection in all these people's lives. The unknown victim's parents are so out of touch with their child's life that they can watch a news story about murdered teens and not even see a connection to their own daughter.

When taken in its proper context, however, this scene makes absolutely no sense.

These are not the parents of some random teenager in town. Over the past week every single one of their daughter's friends has been brutally murdered by a madman, and all signs point to her being the next on the killer's list. At this point in the movie they shouldn't be headed to work in their sports cars, they should be putting their daughter on a plane to the farthest location they can afford to send her. Which, given their house and cars, might well be the moon.

Hell, they don't even check in with her before leaving for work. Because that's plausible in this situation.

2 - Some people deserve to die.

The plot of the film centers around a cult of Luddites who want to show people that technology is bad by murdering anyone who doesn't forward a chain letter that's sent to their E-mail account. What this has to do with technology being bad I have no idea, and the two monologues on the subject spoken by Brad Dourif (who they seemingly just had for one day) are written so sketchily that they only confuse matters.

One of the killer's victims is a strange case, however - he's a near-luddite himself, eschewing the use of the cellular phones that the killer has such a problem with and spending hours rebuilding a classic automobile, rather than driving around in one of the sleek, computer-assisted monstrosities that all the other characters in the movie ride. Yet his death is the most deserving of any in the film. Why? Because it would have occurred exactly the same whether there was a chain-themed killer after him at all.

The victim notices that something is dripping from his suspended engine, so, rather than examine it from any kind of a safe, sane angle, he climbs right into the engine and stares straight down, where there can be no clues to the origin of the leak. Moments later, the chain holding the engine in place snaps, and it falls, cutting him clean in half!

The fascinating thing here is that the killer has no visible involvement in the crime. Yes, he's a chain-themed killer who's lurking about, and yes, a snapping chain did kill the idiot, but only because he's leaned far under somewhere he should never have been. Presumably the killer sabotaged the chain somehow - but how could he have possibly known his victim would be so stupid, or when it would happen. Hell, there's even a witness-

Who'll describe this as a tragic accident, rather than part of a series of serial killings. Why does the killer get the credit for this one?

3 - Well, then why pretend you have a theme at all?

As serial killers go, this one's motivation is so poorly thought-out and explained that the film is basically crippled by the incoherence. As far as we can tell a cult is annoyed by technology because they think it's destroying the world. The inciting incident seems to be that a group of special forces guys were killed when a hacker located their government-issued cell phones, which had GPS.

At this point, you may pause to question why a special forces team was carrying cell phones, which are easily traceable, as opposed to Satellite phones, which are not. The filmmakers don't have an answer for this one, and they hope we'll just move on.

So they have a problem with cell phones and the government, so they decide to start killing children in a town where a lot of telecommunications research is done. That seems like kind of a stretch... more to the point, why use a chain letter to target them? Because you, the killer, are a trained blacksmith who enjoys building chains? What does that have to do with your gripe with technology and cell phones?

More to the point, the killer's theme doesn't hold up to even the slightest scrutiny - he uses a chain letter, telling people that if they don't forward it to five people, they'll die. But then he kills the person who forwarded it anyways. And what if that guy had forwarded it to five people at the far corners of the earth? Would a hulking burn victim have tried to carry hundreds of pounds of chains through customs in China?

4 - Is Scream the only well-written horror movie?

There's a reason that most slasher films take place in isolated locations over small amounts of time. Realism would dictate that, were a series of brutal murders to begin the police would be so completely over it that the killer would be unable to move, let alone finish off his intended targets.

Scream is basically the only film to have ever gotten this right - there's a brutal double-murder that opens the film, and the next day the town is swamped by the media. Attractive white teens senselessly murdered? Of course the streets are covered with reporters - how could they not be? The next day Neve Campbell is attacked, and for the rest of the film she has a cop watching over her (with varying degrees of competence). The entire rest of the film takes place over a few hours on the third night - there have only been two murders at the point when things go bad, and the cops have a good suspect that they're desperately searching for. This makes the fact that they take their eyes off the ball at Matthew Lillard's party understandable, since their attention is better spent somewhere else.

Chain Letter, by comparison, offers a depiction of a series of murders that could never happen in a million years. On the first day a high-school football star is brutally beheaded with a chain in the school gym, and one of his friends is kidnapped. The next day life goes on. People are a little sad about the dead boy, of course, but no one mentions the kidnapped teen, and the film basically forgets that he exists. There is no media response to speak of.

When another teen is killed just days later in a subsequent chain-themed attack, there is still no media response, and although there's a serial killer running around offing (and kidnapping) the white children of rich people, only a single detective seems to be working the case. Seriously, Keith David spends the entire film wandering around on his own - he talks about having people back at the office checking on the origin of an E-mail, but we never see any other cops. Even after an FBI agent is murdered by the cult the FBI doesn't come in and basically shut the town down until the killer is caught.

The town is so understaffed that even after Keith David finds out where the killer lives he heads over to the lair alone, without telling anyone where he's going. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. The answer, of course, is bad writing.

How disconnected is this film from how real people react in these situations?

This pretty blond girl is beaten to death in her own home by a chain-wielding maniac who had to break through a wall to get to her.

The very next day her brother is all alone in the same house - no police protection, no media camped outside - when the killer returns to murder him.

So now, when I say that it's the definition of ridiculous that there's no attention paid or protection offered to the main character when the killer comes looking for her, you'll see what I mean.

5 - At least there's one saving grace on display.

And by display I mean the classic sense, as in a VDT. There may be nothing good in this movie's writing or production, and the killer's M.O. Seems to have been stolen from 'See No Evil', where Kane played a chain-wielding killer, but there is a single interesting thing that happens in the movie.

I mentioned above that no one seems overly concerned about a dead FBI agent in the movie - well that agent was killed so that a cultist could replace him when going to meet Keith David.

The scene between them is an odd one, and not just because the FBI Profiler is obviously nuts - no, the far more compelling oddness that the scene features resides on Keith David's monitor.

Keith walks into the office and finds the cultist already there, waiting. Then, when he sits down at his desk, the text is already on the monitor. What is this writing? Where is it from, what is it for? Why doesn't Keith find it as puzzling as I do?

Honestly, this bizarre screen is more compelling than anything in the movie's actual story, and it was probably just the result of Keith David idly tapping a keyboard while some grips adjusted the lighting.

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