Saturday, September 1, 2012

The London Film Review: 'Chained'


Fright Fest: Chained

Posted on 01 September 2012 by Paul Risker
Still from Chained
Chained the fifth feature from director Jennifer Chambers Lynch is a harrowing psychological thriller that begins with nine year old Tim (Evan Bird) and his mother being kidnapped by taxi driver Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). Witnessing his mother’s murder, Tim is chained and imprisoned in Bob’s remote home, becoming known only by the name ‘Rabbit.’ The film then jumps forward where we encounter an older ‘Rabbit’, for whom slavery and murder has become a way of life. Rabbit is forced not only to help Bob bury his victims, but also collect souvenirs of the victim’s identity and keep Bob’s scrap book up-to-date. The young man eventually faces a tough moral choice: freedom if he is willing to become Bob’s protégé and follow in his murderous footsteps.
Up to now Lynch has been unable to find her feet with the critical establishment, her films not even granting her the consolation of attracting a commercial audience. Her career thus far has been underwhelming despite the creativity of her stories and the diversity of ideas. Boxing Helena, her 1993 directorial debut, received a lukewarm reception and to date her main success was 2008’s Surveillance, starring Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman. Whilst Lynch’s fortunes with the commercial audience will go unchanged; Chained not the kind of film to be a heavyweight contender at the box office, it should secure her favourable critical nods and earmark her as a director of interest. Chained is one of those films that could be seen as the dawn of a director coming to fruition. In Chained she explores themes that have been present in her other films, imprisonment, emotional and physical abuse in Boxing Helena, the crime narrative of Surveillance, and elements of horror present in both her directorial debut and later Hisss.
Watching Chained I felt that sense of privilege I occasionally encounter with a film, that feeling of being in the presence of a talented writer, director and cast. Vincent D’Onofrio delivers a mesmerizing performance as the deranged serial killer taxi driver, bringing out of his antagonist a physical ugliness, supplemented by a cruel streak that in moments is completely void of empathy. Despite my dislike for Bob, I sat wide eyed, chuckling inappropriately I confess, as I find myself in awe of what was quite simply a masterful performance. From D’Onofrio and Lynch’s collaboration emerges an intriguing serial killer, not defined simply as an ‘evil man’ but a fully realised character who possesses a psychological grounding, himself a victim. Lacking the general intelligence of his society, Bob transforms himself into a predator. He leaps to the top of the food chain, by exploiting his knowledge of human behaviour; the cornerstone of his IQ.
One of the admirable qualities of Chained was its restraint, unwilling at any point to retreat to melodrama to stimulate or entertain its audience. Much of this credit should go to Eamon Farren, whose performance is ever so precisely judged. Lacking melodramatic tendencies it is balanced ever so finely between the human instincts of fight or flight, his body a locked box of emotions wanting to break free, betrayed by his unsteady motion, sweaty pallor, nervous and wide-eyed gaze. Farren’s performance is the hook we hang on sympathy on, but it is the restraint of his performance that ensures Chained is a truly dark and gritty psychological thriller. His retreat to melodrama would have compromised the realism of his character, transposed realism for entertainment, and undermined the performance of his co-star D’Onofrio.
Chained is a film of performances, and Lynch understands this, showing herself to be an actor’s director. However, the film is not perfect, and Lynch herself knows this.  Along with her I hope she has the opportunity to deliver her director’s cut which will grant her the opportunity to rectify the film’s compromised conclusion.  I don’t hold Lynch accountable for this shortcoming. Forced to abide by a set running time, at no point did I feel the film sauntered in its build-up to its conclusion. Unfortunately Lynch runs out of time, having to omit scenes that consequently leave us with more questions than answers, and these very possibly overshadow what is one of the year’s most memorable revelations.
Undoubtedly one of the films of the year, it is an intelligent, dark, gritty psychological thriller.  I appreciate cinema that makes me feel uncomfortable, that makes me flinch and look away from the screen because of its harrowing content. I’m reminded of Stephen King’s comment that, “… good art should make you uncomfortable.” I guess Chained was good art, because it did make me uncomfortable, it challenged me by hitting a raw nerve.
For that alone, I look forward to experiencing it a second time, though hopefully as a director’s cut, which will remove a blemish on a film that came close to being near perfect.
Review by Paul Risker


Leigh said...

Thankyou for this and the above film review. I love to read them, no matter whether they are good or bad, although I do love to see Vincent's work being appreciated.

Nantz said...

You're welcome, Leigh. I love to read them too. I imagine there will be more coming from the other festivals too.