What You’ll Like:
- Intriguing villain
- Intelligent and artistic directorial style
- Great performances by two main characters
What You May Not:
- More extreme and sadistic villainous acts will turn some off
- Film slows down during second half
- A couple of character logic inconsistencies
- Tacked on and unnecessary final plot twist
What You’ll Remember:
- How far a psychotic mad man is able to go
Director Jennifer Lynch’s credits to film are not all directorial ones, as she has produced, written, and even acted in a fair number of indie films over the past two decades that have primarily stayed true to their lower budget and limited audience cred. The most significant being the psychological thriller Boxing Helena way back in 1993, and the crime drama Surveillance from 2008. One thing was for sure though, her audiences are certainly no strangers to more extreme content within these films, and with last year’s indie horror thriller Chained, Lynch has not lost her taste for the psychologically twisted. With some great attention to meticulous details, intelligent writing, artistic vision, gripping characters, and scenes that build upon their subtly disturbing imagery, Chained may arguably be Lynch’s best work, and does great to take the viewer into the mind of a mad man, despite a couple of script choices that may have worked better if presented a different way.
Vincent D’Onofrio stars as simply Bob, a 40-something man who makes his living driving a cab in the smaller towns of the rural American mid-west. Little to their knowledge, many who decide to take his cab unexpectedly end up being kidnapped into his socially isolated home which stands completely away from the world in an unnamed and hopelessly rural area where nobody ever seems to care to drive through. Once there Bob decides to have whatever way with his he desires with his victims, who all happen to be young teenage females; whether his initial abuse is sexual or physical, his victims always end up dead and buried underneath the house. Throughout all the years that Bob has been committing these horrific acts, authorities have yet to obtain any real leads that would them to Bob. While it may seem be a bit far-fetched that Bob’s taxi cab has never been able to be tracked down, such a small detail really doesn’t end up mattering considering the character study Lynch intends with the film’s main premise and greatly performed main character relationship.
At the start of Chained we meet a 9-year old boy who takes a trip to the movie theater with his mother, and whose father insists on them taking a cab home instead of a public bus due to perhaps a paranoid distrust of the public. Before being able to call a cab company, Bob’s cab is seen nearby and is hailed by the mother. In a very thrilling and well directed kidnapping scene Bob takes them both back to his home and murders the mother off screen, then proceeds to take in the boy but does not kill him, as Bob has different plans for him for reasons we actually never told. Bob commands the boy to various tasks around his home, telling him what his new life will be like as Bob’s slave, doing things like cleaning up, and helping Bob collect newspaper clippings of all his heinous acts, as well as Bob granting the boy the simple name of ‘Rabbit.’ If Rabbit does not comply with these new rules he would be subjected to beatings by Bob. When the boy decides to attempt escape he is not only caught but also chained to the house by his leg, a restraint that he must now learn to live with. In terms of survival, Rabbit can only speak and eat when such a privilege is allowed by Bob. Therefore for the first half of Chained, we have the small boy accomplishing all his tasks, and becoming accustomed to the everyday witnessing of Bob bringing home new crying victims, as well as the sadistic acts he commits prior to murdering them, some acts that will no doubt have many unsuspecting viewers hitting the stop button before ever caring to make it to the end. Yet it is Lynch’s main vision that they’d miss out on; a vision that presents such relentlessly violent scenes as a means to exploring the mind of a mad man, as well as the intriguing and mature directorial style it is brought forth with. The constant dark cinematography throughout the film within Bob’s house presents to us constant isolation, despite the beautifully clear skies right outside the house; how this clean and tidy atmospheric presentation is able to mask such horrific acts makes the viewer eventually relate to exactly how Rabbit feels, as we see him grow physically, yet not have the freedom to mature intellectually during the film’s slower but more studious and serious second half.
When Rabbit goes from an innocent and simple 9-year old to someone in his late teens, the older Rabbit is performed with complete precision by actor Eamon Farren. How would an 18-year old young adult with the mind, experience, and maturity of a 9-year old who has never seen the outside world act? Well, most likely exactly how Farren portrays him – with ideas of desiring escape but with the extremely quiet, subdued and helpless ignorance of a lost puppy. We, like older Rabbit, become so accustomed to Bob’s brutality and almost “father figure”relationship with him, that we don’t necessary come to loathe Bob when he expresses to Rabbit reasoning for wanting to kill so many young women; while we don’t agree with his murderous acts, Lynch causes us to feel an almost sad pity for him. By this point, the relationship between Rabbit and Bob becomes more complicated, as Rabbit is now able to express more ideas without the same fear of beatings he once had. Since Rabbit has reached an age where he is able to challenge Bob for further explanations, in Bob’s expressing of them he is almost forced to come to realization with them himself, causing an inner conflict within Bob that he never had to deal with before. Bob then matures and begins to understand why he must now treat Rabbit with an element of respect that was never really required from anyone before. It is also during this second half that we are showcased flashbacks of what exactly caused Bob to become so emotionless and psychotic. While some may argue that Bob’s persona can be somewhat inconsistent with this second half, they are not entirely wrong, but it is perhaps considering that since Rabbit is by that point almost a son to Bob, Bob has been forced to change his own viewpoints in the way he has. Evidence of this is seen when Bob finally begins to try and educate Rabbit on human anatomy, perhaps hoping that Rabbit will continue the same murderous acts once Bob can’t anymore. While initially it seemed Rabbit would be doing these house slave tasks the rest of his life, Bob’s reasoning for now wanting to intellectually educate Rabbit is so that he won’t have to live the rest of his life in that house, ironically really, as if Bob had no sort of discipline of control over his own control over Rabbit. To make things even more complicated is with the intentions of Bob in wanting to give Rabbit the experience of sex with a young woman of his choice. That being Bob’s letting Rabbit choose from a high school yearbook, whereas Bob would kidnap the girl to bring to Rabbit. Yet throughout all these years of torment, Rabbit still has enough good sense to disagree and not want to take part. This tension that builds between the two characters due to this disagreement becomes the main conflict of Chained. While at this point of the film things become much less horror and more intricate character study, Lynch is still able to keep the sadistically subtle mood steady throughout. The visual aesthetic of Lynch’s directing is definitely what helps most in maintaining the film’s mature and serious tone, and much credit must certainly be given to Eamon Farren himself, as even his own physical characteristics and inability to ever smile seem to wholly encompass the entirety of the film’s theme.
Chained begins with scaring its audience as Bob seems like your everyday man, and puts people in such helpless situations where they can never seem to find any aid whatsoever. When we initially meet Bob we wonder what could possibly be going through his mind and why he does what he does. Given Vincent D’Onofrio’s chilling performance as such a sick individual it is made all the more real. Him and Farren as Rabbit have some great chemistry on screen, though by the second half they play almost like two zombies who communicate so poorly due to each of their complete inexperience of the world from being so socially withdrawn; a tricky relationship to present on screen and make real, yet the two actors achieve it fantastically. While by the end we do have a mostly pointless final twist involving Rabbit’s father, it doesn’t necessary take away from the film’s theme and intentions but does come across as very forced and tacked on. We are left for the most part satisfied with the character conclusions that Lynch grants us for everyone. Chained at its meaty core is an artistic and deep film of a very dysfunctional character relationship, but wrapped in the fur of a horror thriller.
Extremely thin. We get one alternate scene of when Bob brings home a stripper who he kills in front of Rabbit. The scene is basically just a different production take, and not even anything that was written differently. It lasts a little bit over a minute. Apart from that, we have the film’s theatrical trailer, which is pretty decent itself. Why we couldn’t get any sort of behind-the-scenes featurette is a complete wonder.
Graphics and Sound:
Chained does impress with its blu-ray transfer, offering some very vivid daytime scenes which only work to enhance Lynch’s vision of a constantly sterile psychosis. The darker scenes inside the house give a great low light image with some pleasingly deep blacks and smooth darker shades. Flashback scenes have a dirty spotty style to them which come off very sharp and smooth. There are definitely no complaints on the visual front as Chained is overall a very nice movie to look at visually already, the clean HD image only helps. Sound-wise the film is also very clean. Things never become loud as there are no guns or firearms in the movie at all, and though things stay relatively quiet throughout, all effects come off clear and dialogue is never a problem audibly. Things are well balanced and never become too annoying on the rarer occasions when things become louder.
Chained is a very well made psychological horror thriller, which eventually becomes an intriguing character study between its two main cohorts. Both actors do a splendid job portraying such complex and psychologically damaged people. Lynch certainly has created a great visual theme throughout the film which keeps things mature and demands to be taken seriously. No, this is no gore porn or gross outs for the sake of it, but instead all the extreme violent acts and sadistic tones work to further explore the mind of Bob and what may cause such similar serial killers to rationalize why what they’re doing is right or justified. It also does a great job at showing us how strength can still be achieved through the protagonist (that is, Rabbit) who even though being subjected to such a nightmarish existence for so many years can still care about people and believe what is right. While Chained does slow down in term of thrills during its second half, perhaps disappointing many viewers who aren’t ready for it, as well as tack on a pointless final twist, it is still a very intelligently crafted horror film that does stand out in the sea of the modern cookie cutter horror genre. Keep the kids far away and if you can take the more extreme content, will find a sleeper gem if keeping an open mind. I’d say a strong and fully recommended 3 death cabbies out of 4.