Jennifer Lynch’s latest film, Chained, took to centre stage in Empire 1 during FrightFest 2012 but many were unsure what the film was actually about before sitting down to watch the Surveillance director’s newest outing. Whilst the film was introduced as the programmer’s favourite film of the festival, many were already ready to shrug the film off as part of a filmography, which has never received critical acclaim despite Lynch winning the New York City Horror Film Festival’s Best Director award in 2008 and being the only female director to have done so in the history of the awards. As the daughter of surrealist film marvel, David Lynch, it may become clear why her career is somewhat overshadowed and why the pressure is surely higher for a director who has to live in the shadow of films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr.
Now, we aren’t here to discuss David Lynch, this time the spotlight will be on his daughter, Jennifer, and after watching Chained, I can tell you bloody rightly so. She came onto the stage last weekend, to explain thatChained was an exploration about how monsters are made and what the affects are later in life – this doesn’t really explain what was about to come on screen, but surely made me interested.
Chained is the story of Tim (Evan Bird, and then Eamon Farren) and his mother, Sarah (Julia Ormond) who are picked up by serial killer taxi driver, Bob (a terrifyingly brilliant, Vincent D’Onofrio). After Bob murders his mother, he decides to keep Tim as a protégé, forcing him to clean up and bury the bodies of the young women he drags home. By this point, Tim has renamed Rabbit and must live in the house under certain rules, never get in the way, never eat unless told he can do so and do not try to escape. But as the film continues, we see Rabbit as a quiet, broken teenager who must make the decision between life or death.
This is a somewhat sparse synopsis for the film, especially in a film where there is so much more to look at. On the surface, a serial killer narrative, watching Bob bring home his victims and killing them but what about how this affects Tim/Rabbit. The film concentrates more on his own personal torture, first at not being strong enough to save his mum (he was eight at the time of her murder) and then following on, not being able to save the other women and to a certain extent – even himself. Bob has the boy chained up in the house, long enough to clean the room where the murders take place and to bury them underneath the house. The touching moments in the serial killer narrative, is when you see Rabbit placing something ‘sentimental’ onto the makeshift burials of the departed.
As the film develops, we start to see two central narratives which concentrate on both our main characters, who hold the majority of the film together in the dark and damp house in which the film is set. One narrative is concentrating on Rabbit, and the decisions he must make whilst growing up – does he give in and take over where Bob leaves off or must he try and piece together a plan to get out? Another side to the story is looking at Bob’s childhood and why he became the monster we see before us. Through a series of flashbacks we see he was abused, and in a particularly graphic flashback, things (and I would admit this freely) start to fall into place about Bob. So the audience are left with many questions to consider, as well as watching one monster trying to develop another.
Acting wise, the film mainly concentrates on D’Onofrio and Farren who both keep the film compelling but also have their weaknesses. Chained, I imagine was a difficult film to keep the steam rolling on -it’s dark and it’s immensely personal (and was also filmed in a very short amount of time), which means the balance between creating a sympathetic serial killer and a weak, broken young man may not have been found. Although the both are brilliant in certain scenes, they all have a slight tendency to moan and whine, which did become a little annoying but that aside they had their strengths.
Encompassing, both the acting strength of D’Onofrio and Lynch’s serene stylisation of the film, a sequence where the young Rabbit tries to escape is a particular highlight for me. The film is extremely colourful, which you wouldn’t expect from a film like this but Lynch tricks you into safety at the start of the film. WhereasSurveillance was set in the country, the wide locations where it was emptiness, Chained lulls you into safety. The colour is vibrant and alive whenever the characters are outside, but when inside the house, all colour drains from the screen and instead we are given duller lighting on the dingy walls. A great number of shadows are used in the house to illuminate the areas of darkness around the characters and although they are both given star lighting throughout the film, they are both consumed (metaphorically and physically) by the darkness. Returning, briefly, to the scene I mentioned before – a young Rabbit is left alone in the house and tries to break free through a top window unknowingly Bob is waiting outside for and they have a back and forth, telling Rabbit he has a chance to escape before being knocked down with pelted rocks – it was heartbreaking and stunning to watch.
In discussion with Lynch after the screening, the audience were told that the original story which she was given had more torture porn elements to the film, and the women being killed were done so in much more graphic ways, but she toned that down and decided to concentrate more on the reasons why this has happened to Bob and the repercussions for someone like Tim. She also pointed out, that she wanted to start a dialogue about child abuse through Chained, and talk about it in a way that it hasn’t been done too often. Yes, this is a serial killer, but WHY is he a serial killer – what has led him to this?
Furthermore, the ending divides audiences. Like Surveillance, there is a twist which I didn’t see coming but I enjoyed it. It meant the ending wasn’t wrapped up in a bow (which I wouldn’t expect from a Lynch anyway) but that something had happened, snapped and it was working away at Tim at the end of the film.
Certainly, worth a watch and perhaps even a repeat viewing to consider various other aspects within the film. There is a lot there to consider.
Keep your eyes open for an interview with Jennifer Lynch, coming next year on UK release of the film.
Cast: Vincent D'Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Julia Ormond
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Writer: Jennifer Chambers Lynch, Damian O'Donnell
Release Date:Wednesday 31st October 2012
Running Time: 98mins
Released By: TBC
Buy it now:
Tim (Eamon Farren) is kidnapped along with his mother Sarah (Julia Ormond) when he’s only 9 years old by serial killer taxi driver Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). Taken to Bob’s secluded house, Tim is imprisoned after his mother is murdered and forced into help Bob cover up his spree of murders. As the year’s pass, the two get into a familiar routine with Bob using Tim to look after him. Chained to the wall, Tim hasn’t had freedom since he was kidnapped and Bob promises to unchain him if he sleeps with a girl and turns killer too. Will Tim manage to escape his captor or will he fall foul to the dark side that Bob is luring him to.
Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s new film Chained was one of the most anticipated films of Frightfest and it received its UK premiere earlier today. We’re pleased to say that the film didn’t disappoint as it brought to life the dark and sinister story that its synopsis promised. The film opens with the disturbing kidnapping of Tim and his mother both shocking and terrifying the audience in the process. The fear factor never lets up as Bob continues to bring women of all ages home to rape, torture and kill. There are so many disturbing moments in the film that it’s definitely not one for the faint-hearted and anyone who can’t tolerate the darker side of the horror genre should stay well clear.
Director Lynch injects her style into the film and the way she portrays and establishes the relationship between Tim and Bob is quite remarkable. Bob renames Tim to Rabbit early on in the film likening him to a caged animal. Lynch grows the relationship between the two making their interaction believable despite the horrific situation Rabbit finds himself in. She veers away from the gratuitous exploitation route that this film could easily have taken – and in the Q&A after she mentioned that the original script was more torture-porn than psychological suspense thriller. We think she made the right decision because the more subtle approach definitely struck more of a chord with us.
At the heart of Chained is two remarkable performances. Vincent D’Onofrio has made a name for himself playing oddball characters but he’s at his most terrifying here as Bob. He seems so ordinary yet at the same time is absolutely menacing. Much of Bob’s backstory comes out throughout the movie and D’Onofrio uses that material to scare the hell out of the audience. Eamon Farren on the other hand plays Rabbit/Tim in a very restrained and considered way. He reacts practically rather than emotionally to the situation he’s in. His interaction with D’Onofrio’s Bob is really powerful.
Chained is by no means an easy watch but it’s a triumph of film-making. The subject matter will certainly not be to everyone’s taste but Lynch has created a movie that will affect you long after the final reel. In the hands of a less capable director this could easily have been a very different film but Lynch controls it putting the right emphasis in the right places. As much an exploration of unspoken love as it is an unpleasant musing on the sinister side of some people, Chained is a remarkable film that captivates, engages and emotionally moves you.
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.