Chained. 2012. Directed by Jennifer Lynch. Screenplay by Damian O’Donnell & Lynch.
Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird, Julia Ormond, Conor Leslie, Jake Weber, Gina Philips, Daniel Maslany, Michael Maslany, & Alexander Doerksen. Envision Media Arts/RGB Productions.
Rated 18A. 94 minutes.
Jennifer Lynch has an even more grim style than her father, whose weirdness pervades each of his works. Her films focus on the macabre aspects of life in a more visceral way than the often existentially eerie style of his approach. With Surveillance, she gave us the story of a bunch of lives intersecting; two of those lives belonging to serial killers. In Chained there’s more serial killing – a cab-driving serial killer named Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) – and more disturbing still is the fact he’s killed a woman then abducted her son, in order to make him into a slave, to serve and help him while he lives out a life of terror. Up front is the strong performance of D’Onofrio, paired with Eamon Farren who plays an older version of the boy Bob kidnapped. Their growing relationship is the centrepiece of the plot and what makes everything so disturbing, as the boy unwillingly becomes a greater part of Bob’s life and eventually finds himself at a crossroads: to choose getting free, somehow, or becoming an apprentice serial killer.
There’s an excellent, devilish twist which comes late in the game, and changes everything. Only to tumble us further down into the darkness. Such is the name of the game when Jennifer Lynch is at the helm. And that ending? There’s a savage wallop to its impact.
One of the most chilling scenes to me is the drivers license moment. Bob and Rabbit (Farren) sit together, using the licenses like playing cards. They read the names, as the other must guess information about them. Of course they’re all victims, obviously. And that’s the chilliness. The way Bob gets excited to play, calling for “just one round” and his furthering excitement when Rabbit makes correct guesses; so unnerving.
There are a lot of creepy scenes. Like Bob trying to sleep on his bed, rolling around, remembering the ugly abuse and forced incest he was made to endure at the hands of his father.
Another part that bothered me, for whatever reason, was the one willing woman who walks into Bob’s house gets lured into a scary little room then dispatched casually, her throat slit. I thought there was something else about to happen, so that nasty patch of gore came as a great surprise. Can’t forget part of the finale, either. A few gruesome bits there, too.
D’Onofrio is, hands down, one of the most underrated actors working in film today. People always tout his early work in Full Metal Jacket, then seem to ignore all the rest of his quality performances along the way. I mean, if it’s not obvious here, I’m not sure where else you can understand it. For instance, the quiet way he watches the man and his son in the backseat of his cab, flinching at the memories of abuse and incest coming back to him simultaneously, it is heavy. He makes you feel every last inch of those nightmares in his head. Plus, he’s physically imposing, not just due to his size. His commanding presence is part of what’s creepy, and terrifying during other moments. He never goes overboard, as some tend to do when they’re portraying someone as crazy as Bob. D’Onofrio teeters on the edge. He seethes. The frustration of this man, with himself and his predilections, with Rabbit, with the world, it’s so evident in how the character comes across. All without resorting to hammy acting. Say what you want about the rest of the film, he provides its entire worth on the performance alone.
There’s also Farren, as the older Rabbit still stuck chained to Bob both figuratively and literally. He makes us feel for the kid, as well as keeps the audience chained to his feeling of despair. Rabbit is lost, he’s scared, angry. There are a bunch of emotions inside him. The helplessness of the character is so tragic. Because you see the younger version, played by Evan Bird, whose resilience is undeniable. Gradually, he’s broken down. Once Farren takes over as Rabbit in his late teens, he is all but a dog on a leash. There’s a shot where he finds himself on the floor after a bit of rumble with Bob, he stares over the top of the dinner table at his captor; the emotion in his eyes, the stare of hatred locked deep in his heart. I can’t get over that one shot. Farren earns his keep alongside D’Onofrio with that scene, among others. I honestly can’t remember seeing this guy in anything else, but he’s definitely got talent.
The way Lynch directs her film is beautifully dark. Even little moments like HELP across the cab door are kept secretive until characters discover it themselves. Certainly the twist is under wraps until the last 15 minutes, which explode across the screen in all their brutal glory. There’s a great feeling of a twist, yes. What works most for me is the way Lynch presents it, cutting from what we thought we’ve seen to what’s actually happened, then to what happens as a result of secrets uncovered. You’ll definitely be floored by what comes out in the end. A moment right before the credits has you wondering exactly who Rabbit will end up becoming after all he’s endured.
A 5-star horror experience for me. D’Onofrio and Farren are a powerful pair. They each have their own strengths: D’Onofrio is scary in a subtle way yet it’s always clear; Farren is a wounded animal who must discover a strength in himself that may or may not be there. Together they alternate you between fear, repulsion, empathy, disgust. Their performances take you to an uneasy emotional space. Proper show for an effective horror. Another reason why I think, for her few missteps, Jennifer Lynch is a great director to have around in the modern horror genre. This and The Cell make me also want more D’Onofrio in horror, he is downright menacing; if anything you’ll be attracted to his darkness.