A film review by Lee Allen Howard
“Brilliant!” That’s what I exclaimed as the credits rolled for Chained, a 2012 Canadian psychological horror film that could also be categorized as a dark crime thriller. The movie was directed by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of American director David Lynch of Eraserhead fame).
The movie stars Vincent D’Onofrio as Bob, a taxi-driving serial killer who abducts women, rapes and kills them, and buries them on his property. But one day he picks up Sarah Fittler and her nine-year-old son, Tim, played by Evan Bird. After doing his schtick on Mom, Bob raises her boy as his own. “Rabbit,” as Bob calls him, must do as he says: eat his leftovers, clean the house, and bury the dead.
Because Rabbit tries to escape (even though the house is inescapable), Bob chains him to the daybed in the kitchen, thus giving the movie its title.
Rabbit grows to be a teenager (now played by Eamon Farren) and is still held captive in Bob’s home, although he’s no longer chained. In addition to doing housework, he’s been entrusted with the responsibility of burying “Dad’s” victims. Bob assigns an anatomy textbook for his protégé’s education, expecting the young man to follow in his footsteps as a serial killer whether he wants to or not.
Bob forces Rabbit to select a victim from a local yearbook. Rabbit reluctantly chooses a girl named Angie, whom Bob abducts and leaves in a room for his son to kill. Rabbit instead bonds with the girl. However, when Bob enters, Rabbit stabs Angie in the stomach and drags her into another room containing the dead bodies of past victims.
Bob escorts Rabbit to the city in his cab and proposes possible next candidates, but Rabbit rejects each of them. Bob discovers that Rabbit wrote “help” on the side of the car.
Because I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who want to watch it, I’ll only reveal that the film ends with some exciting action and a twist you won’t want to miss.
Shot in just fifteen days at Regina, Saskatchewan, there are no spectacular special effects in this film. Just intense drama, keen suspense, and fascinating characterization.
Scriptwriter and director Damian O’Donnell’s script provided the film’s initial concept. Lynch liked the script but thought it wasn’t right for her; she didn’t want to make a torture-porn film. The producers still wanted her to take on the script, so Lynch accepted, rewriting the script to emphasize the characters rather than their violence. By focusing on the story, Lynch somewhat humanized a serial killer’s actions despite his brutality and misogyny.
A particularly violent scene, in which a victim named Mary is viciously murdered, initially earned the movie an MPAA NC-17 rating. Lynch edited the film, cutting the scene, to get an R rating. The offending scene, however, is included as a special feature on the DVD.
The film premiered at Montreal’s 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival. It never hit theaters but was instead released directly to video in the U.S. by Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Reception was divided—it’s one of those movies you either love or hate. Some critics considered that Lynch had failed in her desire to not make a torture-porn film. Tim Robey called it “a lurid disgrace” (“Films in Brief: Bullhead, A Place in the Sun, Chained.” The Daily Telegraph. Feb. 1, 2013.). D’Onofrio’s and Farren’s performances were generally praised, something I agree with.
Although I didn’t like looking at Vincent D’Onofrio in this film, he’s an incredible actor and, like his performance in The Cell (2000), delivers a convincing—and chilling—performance as Bob. The lovely Eamon Farren portrays Rabbit with sympathy. I hope to see more of him.
While this movie isn’t for the faint of heart because of extreme violence, it’s worth studying for its writing and characterization.
Chained was included in Rue Morgue Magazine’s 200 Alternative Horror Films You Need to See. (I’m still loading up my DVD.com queue…) Bloody Disgusting posts an interview with Jennifer Lynch.
Chained was written by Damian O’Donnell and produced by Rhonda Baker, David Buelow, and Lee Nelson. 94 minutes. Rated R.
This film is intense and darkly disturbing, and that’s why I love it. I added Chained to my private DVD collection. If you’re into serial-killer films, you may like it too.