The Letter

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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The Letter (2012, dir: Jay Anania; cast: Winona Ryder, Josh Hamilton, James Franco)





The Letter is a mess. No real story, just a collection of confused and confusing, disjointed scenes. What was writer/director Jay Anania not thinking?

As with many film disasters, the distributor has no idea how to sell it. They even tried to market it as a horror film. In addition to a misleading trailer (see below) the tagline read: "She thought she saw a devil."

(Hell Cab was a similar bait & switch -- a dreary indie film falsely marketed as horror.).

In The Letter, Martine (Winona Ryder) is directing actors in an unfinished play. She's still writing the play during these rehearsals, changing things day to day. New scenes, new dialog. She calls it "workshopping."

Martine also appears to be going insane, so we can't really know what's happening. How much is in her mind? What's real and what's not? Has she been drugged? Or not? Many possibilities are suggested, but we never really learn any answers. I suppose that's meant to be profound?

The Letter has many closeups, and even extreme closeups, of its cast. (The film's working title was The Stare.) Yes, Winona Ryder looks lovely in her closeups. If you want a collection of Ryder images for your screensaver, then this is the DVD for you. But if you want a film that's entertaining, or even coherent, you must look elsewhere.



As in many of her past films, Ryder: 1. does voiceovers, 2. plays a writer, 3. plays a fragile crazy girl.

Ever since Girl, Interrupted, Ryder's too often been typecast as The Fragile Crazy Girl. She can be excellent when playing something else. I especially loved her as the fragile devil hunter in Lost Souls. But she isn't given a chance to play non-crazy often enough.

And what an awful title -- The Letter. So generic. As of 2021, the IMDB lists 200 films and TV shows with the title The Letter.

The Letter actually reminded me of the much better Stage Fright (aka Nightmares), a 1983 slasher film, because Stage Fright is set amid rehearsals for a really bad, pretentious play, much like that in The Letter. Except that Stage Fright parodies the sort of pretentiousness found in The Letter.

Nightmares is a gory horror film -- but what's really scary is that (according to the IMDB) The Letter's writer/director "Jay Anania heads the directing program at the graduate film school at New York University and is one of James Franco's teachers."

Franco co-stars in The Letter. I guess Anania used his NYU film school contacts to get this film made, but based on this sample of his filmmaking skills, NYU should fire him and refund his students' tuition fees.




The Letter also reminds me of the Nightmare (not to be confused with the above Australian slasher film). Similar to The Letter, this Nightmare is about a film student who's rewriting his student project as he films it, while simultaneously appears to be going insane. And like The Letter, Nightmare ends up a confusing mess where we no longer know what's real, or in his mind, or who knows what.

Note to filmmakers: Just because your film is confusing does not mean it's profound.

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