The film opens in a garage with an unconscious young woman having her head wrapped in duct tape and her legs chained to the back of two cars. A man and woman walk to their cars on their way to work. As the couple start their cars they exit the driveway. The woman in the car notices the victim, but as she exits her car to warn the man, he drives off. Neil Conners (Cody Kasch) receives a chain letter from an anonymous person telling him that he is the first person who links the chain, and instructing him to forward it to five people or else he will die. His sister Rachael (Cherilyn Wilson) forwards the letter, but to only four recipients. Neil then adds his sister to the list and sends it.
Rachael's best friend, Jessica "Jessie" Campbell (Nikki Reed), gets the letter and forwards it to five friends. Johnny Jones (Matt Cohen) also receives it but refuses to send it, believing it to be ridiculous. While he is getting a drink of water at the fountain in the gym, a black hooded figure slams his head on the fountain, knocking two of his teeth out. Unconscious, he is chained by his arms to a gym set and has his ankles sliced open. After which the killer uses the chains to slice his face open, killing him. Jessie becomes suspicious as more people start to die. While taking a bath, Rachael becomes suspicious of a possible intruder inside the house. She investigates and is attacked by the killer who whips her with the chain several times as she runs through the house to escape. Re-entering the bathroom, she locks the door and looks for a weapon, pacing back and forth with a cistern lid, waiting for him to attack. She walks up to the door and places her face next to it, listening. Suddenly realizing the killer is on the other side doing exactly the same thing, she rapidly backs away. Seconds later, the killer breaks through a side wall into the room, hitting her on the top of her head with the lid, splitting it open.
Outside the house, Jessie is greeted by Detective Jim Crenshaw (Keith David), who tells her to forward the chain letter on to him. Jessie figures out they are being spied on using a virus embedded in the chain letter so meets with Neil, and Michael (Michael J. Pagan) planning to try to stop the murders. Later on, as more people send Neil the message, he panics and decides to delete all of them in order to confront the killer. The killer, however, is on the roof of Neil's room, and sends a chain smashing through his ceiling. Neil dies as he gets dragged up to the roof of his house by chains with various sickles and a hook. It is revealed that the man behind all the killings was a soldier. During the war, he was tortured by the enemy because he had a government-issued cell phone. He returned to the United States severely disfigured and disappeared from a hospital, starting a cult of "anti-technology" followers marked by barcode tattoos. It is then revealed that the woman chained to the cars in the beginning of the film is Jessie, who is killed because she sent the chain letter to Detective Crenshaw without sending it to four other people. Michael tries to save her but is too late; when her father pulls out of the driveway, Jessie is ripped apart.
As the film ends, Detective Crenshaw is shown chained to a table while the killer makes chains.
The film was directed by Deon Taylor and co-written by Diana Erwin and Michael J. Pagan. It stars Nikki Reed, Keith David, Brad Dourif, and Betsy Russell. Roxanne Avent, Nesim Hason, and Todd Slater produced for Deon Taylor Enterprises.
Filming took place in El Dorado Hills, Hood, and Placerville in California, USA.
The limited theatrical release was on October 1, 2010, with screenings in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, and Atlanta. The film was released in American cinemas on October 1, 2010. The film is a box office bomb, losing approximately 2.5 million dollars. It made $143,000 from 406 theaters, or an average of $352 per theater.
Critical reception for Chain Letter has been mostly negative. Mike Hale from New York Times panned the film stating, "Chain Letter is bad in depressing and irritating ways, from the incoherent story to the unimaginative brutality of the killings to the especially cynical, sequel-baiting ending". Frank Scheck from The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a negative review, calling the film "a by-the-numbers example of torture porn". Dennis Harvey from Variety panned the film, feeling that the film's themes on technology felt way too dated while also criticizing the film's "sloppy" screenplay, uneven direction, and resolution. The film currently has a 23% "Rotten" rating on film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 1.6/10 based on 13 reviews.
Image released the film both unrated and theatrical cuts of the film on DVD and Blue-ray on Feb 1, 2011.