#21 – Chained

Rating: ★★★☆☆

One of the most talked about films at Frightfest this year was Jennifer Lynch’s Chained, a grim and thought-provoking thriller that examines the mind of a serial killer as well as the cogs that might breed one. When Sarah (Julia Ormond) and her young son Tim get a cab ride home from a trip to the cinema, their lives are changed forever. Cabbie Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) happens to be a serial killer, and kidnaps the pair, taking them to his secluded home, killing Sarah and chaining up Tim, retaining him as a reluctant assistant for his killings. We then skip forward in time, and Tim, now referred to as Rabbit (Eamon Farren), has come of age. Bob offers him a choice – a chance to escape his shackles if he will continue Bob’s legacy, and kill for himself. Rabbit must decide whether he has developed the taste for killing, or if he will attempt to overcome the all-powerful grip his “master” has over him.

Needless to say, Chained is one of the grimmest films in recent memory, and takes few steps to inject its narrative with any measure of comic relief of catharsis whatsoever. From first minute to last, it is almost relentlessly downbeat, but what steers it away from becoming misery pornography is the pained psychological examination of its characters, and the humanity – even in Bob – that we can observe beneath. D’Onofrio, who doesn’t get nearly enough big-screen work, is exceptional in the lead role, completely throwing himself into its heady demands, while Farren is also thoroughly convincing as the deprived young man looking for inner strength to escape this toxic atmosphere of abuse.

Director Lynch does a bang-up job of keeping viewers on their toes; one sequence in which Bob brings a cute young girl home from a local high school in order for Rabbit to lose his virginity – and then, ostensibly, kill her – is a laudable feat of sustained tension, and one which carries with it grand consequences leading into the final stretch. In her clear desire to probe into the mind, however, Lynch does reach a little too far; brief flashbacks to Bob’s past feel shoehorned and completely unnecessary, signposting psychoanalysis rather than slyly massaging it into the story. However, knowing something about Bob’s past is somewhat necessary for the climax, which delivers an unexpected – and according to Lynch herself, incredibly divisive – twist ending, which works on the whole even if it feels a tad rushed, as the short running time was apparently a contractual obligation for the director.

Chained is confronting cinema like we rarely see, even with its share of hiccups.

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This article was first posted on August 30, 2012