From Jennifer Lynch (David Lynch’s daughter) comes possibly the most brutal study in serial killers you’ll see this year and that’s a tall order considering its only February. Chained is an unrelentingly painful portrayal of life with a serial killer.
A young boy (Evan Bird) is forced to become the personal slave of a serial killer cab-driver called Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio), after him and his mother are kidnapped and the mother is murdered. As a strange relationship forms between the two, not unlike a master-apprentice, the boy, (now older and portrayed by Eamon Farren) must choose whether to follow in his captor’s footsteps or make desperate attempts to flee the horror of the isolated home.
Even the first ten minutes is enough to deeply unsettle any seasoned horror fan, and it kinda roller-coasters from there, reaching highs that have you so wound up you’ll want to escape, and lows that will make you ponder the lifestyles inherent to many abusive childhoods. These lows are where D’Onofrio shows his true worth; those sad wretched moments masked with rage or when Bob succumbs to flashbacks of a life plagued with violence and cruelty. His quiet lisping voice and gaited wander are so adept at masking the strength, and ferocity, of a murderer, that at some points you can’t help but feel sorry for him. But then, that’s Lynch’s point: there’s a feeling that this piece doesn’t really have a villain in the traditional sense, there’s too much cause and effect going about to simply mark any of the characters down as “evil”. By the end, though, he definitely deserves his comeuppance,
This careful characterisation allows the bizarre father/son relationship between Bob and Rabbit to grow without ever seeming laughable. Farrer’s barren performance is painful to watch but in that good way reserved for truly distressing thrillers, kind of like Leland Orser in Se7en. Stuttered words and the furtive body language of a terrified child in a teen’s body, all hint at years of systematic abuse and exposure to the horror of Bob’s hobbies. Lynch is careful with which details of Rabbit’s life she presents, and which she holds back, since this is an intricate study in psychological horror, it could easily be upset by anything too out-there.
There’s an ironic tone under all this misery matched with a deft and startling eye for detail. Bob’s taxi, scrawled luxuriously with the word Comfort, is unsettling start to finish, Rabbit’s seemingly mile-long chain seems surreal, and Bob’s house in the middle of a lush green field seems like a prison island out at sea. That’s not to mention Bob and Rabbit playing trumps with the slain girls’ I.D. cards. There are a lot of macabre, clever little touches, and beautiful frames, which play with the restricted space of the house ensuring the film has merit as a cinematic construction as well as a heart-wrenching psyche-disturbance.
This is why it’s such a shame the ending flops. A last minute dash for a twist leaves the film switching tracks far too late and the message gets thrown in the air. It’s disappointing and does render the film slightly odder than if it had stayed on its simple but strong premise.
Overall an intense and wholly unsettling affair thanks to careful scripting and a jaunting, claustrophobic style. D’Onofrio’s stellar performance is one of the best screen killers in a long time, whilst Lynch’s direction maintains an impressive near-perfect study of the cycle of abuse, spoiled only by an outlandish finale.
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Stars: Vincent D’Onofrio, Evan Bird, Eamon Farren, Julia Ormond, Jake Weber