First thing to note about Chained is: it is not a pleasant viewing experience.
Second thing to note about Chained is: it will probably rot your soul a wee bit.
From Jennifer Lynch (yes, that’s David Lynch’s daughter) comes possibly the most brutal study in serial killers you’ll see this year and I don’t feel too pedantic saying that even though its only February. This truly intense piece of film, is unrelenting in its focus and painful in its 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 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 look away and lows that will make you ponder the sad and inevitable lifestyles inherent to many abusive childhoods. These lows are where D’Onofrio shows his true worth, in those sad wretched moments masked with rage and in the 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 only 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 a life less cared for.
Lynch is careful with which details of Rabbit’s life she presents to us, 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 is near iconic, and Bob’s house in the middle of a lush green field seems like a prison island out at sea, to name a few wee details.
That’s not to mention Bob and Rabbit playing trumps with the slain girls’ I.D. cards. There are a lot of clever little touches and beautiful framings which play with the restricted space of the house also, 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 into the air. Its disappointing and does render the film slightly less 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.
Dir. Jennifer Lynch
Stars. Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird, Julia Ormond, Jake Webber, Conor Leslie