(18) Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Writers: Damian O’Donnell, Jennifer Lynch
Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird, Julia Ormond, Conor Leslie
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Director Jennifer Lynch is no stranger to controversy. Her debut film, 1993’s Boxing Helena, upset critics and viewers alike, but to me was a superb journey into obsession unlike anything that had come before it. While Surveillance was a pretty straight forward, but astonishing film, her 2010 film Hisss is yet to get a UK release. However, Lynch is back with Chained, a film which caused controversy at last year’s festivals, but also won plenty of praise from audiences, and rightly so.
Chained is a breathtaking and often repulsive look into the world of a serial killer, but presented to the viewer in a way that is slightly different to what we might usually be accustomed to. This is where Lynch proves her talents as a filmmaker, by taking a well known genre and doing something quite special with it. Granted the central, towering and chilling performance by Vincent D’Onofrio as serial killer Bob goes some way in securing the films brilliance, but it is Lynch’s careful, calm and engaging direction which puts this film up there with the best of them. Make no mistake though, Chained is likely to cause a reaction from the viewer, so be pre-warned that you will find some scenes hard to stomach.
The film opens with astonishing authority as we meet for the first time, Bob and his nine year old accomplice Rabbit (Evan Bird). With no build up, the doorbell to a mysterious house rings, the boy frantically counts to ten, opens the door and in comes Bob with his latest, screaming victim. You’re blood will turn cold, and this is all Lynch needs to introduce her characters. We then jump back in time eight weeks and discover how young Rabbit (as named by Bob)came to be in this predicament. During a trip to the movies, his Father begs the boy and his Mother to get a cab home because it is safer, but serial killer Bob is lurking (himself a cab driver), looking for victims. Today, it is the boy and his Mother who get into his cab, and begin to panic when Bob misses their exit off the highway and takes them somewhere secluded. The scenes as Bob drags the boy’s Mother from his garage into his home are utterly disturbing. The Mother (Julia Ormond) begs her son to “cover his ears” as she is dragged away, and here is where Lynch shows off her skills and control as a filmmaker. We do not see what happens, but we hear the Mother screaming, the boy cries and a haunting, horrible tone of music plays out to confirm the atrocities on screen. This is seriously good filmmaking, and frightening.
Rabbit soon becomes Bob’s slave, and he is given a strict regime of rules and tasks: he only eats what Bob has left over, he must answer Bob’s knocking on the door within ten seconds, he must add newspaper cut outs to a scrapbook of Bob’s murders, he must clean, can only watch TV when Bob says so, and the list goes on. Any breaking of the rules gets a beating, and Rabbit is told “this is your world now”. Rabbit must now endure a bizarre relationship with a serial killer who has no idea how to raise a child, but wants the boy to respect him. Rabbit digs the holes to bury the victims, and each and every girl brought home for Bob to slaughter upsets Rabbit more and more. He tries to escape, but eventually, after being chained up, gives in and accepts his fate. However, flash forward to Rabbit in his teens, and we learn that Bob just might be planning to have Rabbit follow in his footsteps.
At times you begin to think that Bob might actually be trying to help Rabbit: he orders him to educate himself so he can get out of this life and be a man, but chillingly there are more sinister plans in Bob’s head. Yes he does wants Rabbit to be educated, but for all the wrong reasons. Rabbit grows accustomed to Bob’s world, and in a truly chilling scene, the pair sit down for a bizarre game of cards where the game is to guess the victims age, address etc by the player calling out the victims name (pulled from a collection of dead girls drivers licences and ID cards). It would appear that while Rabbit fears Bob, and barely speaks, he too is becoming damaged.
Lynch carefully creates tension, menace and mood in her film with a great use of camera, lighting and music. During scenes of calm dialogue between Rabbit and Bob, the camera pans back, taking in the whole room and sits, motionless as if we were a fly on the wall, a spy looking into a depraved world that thankfully we will never know. During moments of violence, the camera becomes much more active, taking in everything on screen but looking at the action as if we too were involved. It is clever stuff, and the use of almost primitive, basic colours and the odd piece of claustrophobic music, only enhances the dark and moody atmosphere. The film feels sinister from beginning to end, and as the story progresses, Lynch keeps the viewers interest by not making it clear exactly where, or how far the film intends to take things.
Chained also delves into the mind of a serial killer and gets right to the heart of the matter in breathtaking fashion. Bob suffers nightmares of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his brutal Father, and spends many nights wriggling about on his bed, screaming and grasping the bed sheets for dear life. You almost feel sorry for the guy, until he brings home his next victim. The sad truth though, is try as he might, his actions are doing to Rabbit exactly what his Father did to him. What we soon end up with is a film about two tortured individuals, each showing signs of abuse, and each showing signs of madness not only by their actions, but also by suggestion, and Lynch is very good at not pushing the film where it doesn’t actually need it. She allows the excellent acting talents of her cast, and the superb script to do most of the work. One of the central pieces in the film is a riveting one on one chat between Bob and Rabbit, where Rabbit asks the question “why do you do it?”. Bob’s response is cold, and hits you with a mighty wallop as you suddenly realise just who it is he hates.
When there is violence, Lynch keeps it believable, but also pushes it as far as she can. One girl ‘escapes’ Bob’s bedroom, only to appear in the kitchen covered in blood and slices from Bob’s Stanley blade. Another horrific scene see’s a girls throat cut, with Bob barely raising an eyebrow as he does it. Chained gets inside your head with its story, characters, script and violence and delivers one hell of a journey. However, while the first two thirds are masterful filmmaking, the final third falls into more familiar territory, and it is when she is playing by the rules that Lynch loses her way a bit. That is not to say the film fails at the end, but I personally prefer Lynch when she is playing by her own rules and dishing out her out form of savagery. Whether you see the end coming or not, it still packs a punch, and is guaranteed to leave you cold and rattled.
Chained is very good indeed, but is certainly not for the faint of heart. If you enjoy something a little different, something that crawls into your mind rather than smashes its way in, then Chained is for you. A slow, calculated and intense film that proves, once again, that Jennifer Lynch is a truly fantastic filmmaker, and also proves that Vincent D’Onofrio is one hell of an actor. Chilling, creepy and downright brilliant, Chained is a must see.