Stars: Vincent D’onofrio, Eamon Farren, Julia Ormond, Jake Weber, Conor Leslie, Evan Bird | Written by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, Damian O’Donnell | Directed by Jennifer Lynch
L’enfant terrible Jennifer Lynch, whose previous flick Hissss is yet to see the light of day in many territories (at least legally), is back with Chained, a serial-killer flick that looks like something that has stepped off 70s US television, yet plays like the the more sleazier side of the decade as seen in the grindhouse cinema of 42nd Street and movies such as Taxi Driver – with shades of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer thrown in for good measure!
Chained tells the story of Tim, a young boy who following an outing to the cinema with his mother, is abducted by Bob, an unlicensed taxi driver whose cab they hail. Driven out to the wilds of Saskatchewan and to the isolated home in which Bob lives, Tim’s mother (played by a cameo-ing Julia Ormond who also starred in Lynch’s Surveillance) is brutally murdered in front of Tim by the unflinching Bob. Taking Tim under his wing, Bob teaches Tim how to be the obedient slave come son-he-never-had, making him cook and clean and wait on his new “father”, not only that but also clean up after his kills and bury the bodies in the basement. Starting with Tim’s mother. Years pass and Tim, now re-christened “Rabbit” by Bob, remains in non-indentured servitude. However Bob is soon eager to teach the grown Tim the ways of the human body and have him experience a woman – in more ways than one. In short Bob’s looking for an heir to his serial-killing empire, and Rabbit is it.
If you’ve seen Lynch’s Surveillance you may remember her fantastic use of stark, almost empty locales, which gave that film a weird ethereal nature. Well with Chained she does it again, shooting the film in the wilds of Saskatchewan which, whilst contrary to the typical claustrophobic nature of the genre, still manages to make proceedings feel closed-in and isolated despite the vast open landscapes on which the film takes place. The sparse setting is also translated inside Bob’s home, with only enough furniture to make the place liveable whilst remaining a functional “lair” for his serial-killing exploits.
But Chained is not about the landscapes or the locales, it’s all about the characters of Bob and Rabbit; and it’s here where Lynch has once again pulled off somewhat of a coup in her casting choices. With character actor turned TV star Vincent D’onofrio (whose performance as Agent Goren in NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent is one of the television greats) in the lead role as Bob, Lynch has an actor that once again brings his chameleon-like quality to this role. The antithesis of Agent Goren, Bob is a lumbering brute of a man who has a no-nonsense approach to life and to death; and D’onofrio plays the role with an air of pathos, which works to humanise the man even if his deeds are reprehensibly monstrous. However the real revelation is Eamon Farren. Last seen in the less-than-stellar wannabe exploitation flick X: Night of Vengeance, Farren brings a quite, often disarming, calm to his portrayal of Rabbit – this is a teenager teetering on the edge of sanity and he balances fragility and strength (both mental and physical) to perfection. And come the films final act you’re never really sure whether Rabbit has given in to Bob’s indoctrination. It’s credit to Farren that his performance is never lost alongside powerhouse D’onofrio.
Director Jennifer Lynch isn’t afraid to go to some pretty dark places in Chained, there’s an incredible streak of black comedy running throughout – nowhere more so than when Bob and Rabbit play “Go Fish” with the driving licenses of Bob’s dead victims. She also mounts an assault on the ears as well as the eyes, often cutting away from Bob’s actions and leaving the audio to tell the tale; and come the films final denouement it’s sound that continues the story…
A tense, bleak drama about a serial killer and his charge, Chained is for the most part a barn-storming success. It’s just a shame that Lynch chose to throw in a final twist that dampens the effect of all that has proceeded it.