Chained is an early contender for most violent film of the year and it owes much of this to what happens off- rather than on-camera. Throughout Jennifer Lynch’s latest film there is a sense of foreboding and an ominous thread of terror. Viewers will find themselves on the edge of their seat, uneasy and waiting unknowingly for a sharp, swift punch of dread as they are drip-fed repulsion and difficulty truths about the human condition.
The film revolves around serial killer and taxi driver, Bob (D’Onofrio), and his long-suffering prisoner Tim (Farren and Bird), affectionately dubbed ‘Rabbit’. The film is quick to establish its tone and brutality when, in the opening scene, Bob – a huge and imposing on-screen monster – drags his latest victim into the kitchen and lays her out with a ‘business as usual’ approach to violence akin to Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee’s The Woman. There are no rose-tinted spectacles, no thrills and no special effects, just heavy hands, thuds and high-pitched screams of anguish. This all takes place in front of a nine-year-old boy – who we later learn is Rabbit – who is screaming and begging Bob to stop. Fast-forward a few minutes to a couple of months prior to this scene and we learn just how Rabbit came to live with the maniacal taxi driver; Rabbit and his mother (Ormond) were just another pair of helpless passengers looking for a cab ride, and for Rabbit’s mother it would prove fatal. Lynch could have taken the easy and more often trod method of laying out the brutal murder for all to see, but instead this happens off-camera and just like Rabbit we get to create our own image of what really happened to his dear mum.
And in many ways Chained is a ‘choose your own nightmare’ film, if you like. From the UK cover and promotional materials you may be mistaken into believing you’re going to be treated to another sub-Saw run-of-the-mill torture porn film, but Chained is much more akin to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Senseless than Saw, Hostel and the lesser byproducts of the two. Its minimalist approach extends to its soundtrack from the Climax Golden Twins (who remembers their ingenious score for Session 9?) which goes for a bare-bones approach and really ramps home the ‘less is more’ ethos. Rather than tackling the film solely from the victim’s point of view – a familiar tendency in films of its ilk – Chained explores the root of Bob’s pain and attempts an explanation as to why Bob is how he is. As is so often the case with serial killers there are unresolved childhood issues which are touched upon through nightmare-esque flashbacks and are then brought to the forefront of the film as they influence Bob’s actions in the present day. It is Bob’s childhood which created the evil inside him but which also plays a vital part in Bob’s initial sparing of Rabbit’s life; a character who with time he views simultaneously as both a child and protégé.
Bob’s character arc and subsequent attachment to Rabbit feels completely organic and at no times is it forced or trite. Rabbit is initially captured — and chained up after a botched escape attempt – and given a strict set of rules to abide by which can be paraphrased as: do what I say, never question anything, only ever eat leftovers and failure to comply or meet my standards will result in a beating. Over time – a ten year span, in fact – Bob grants Rabbit more privileges and eventually Bob is more attached to Rabbit than Rabbit to him in an anti-Stockholm Syndrome twist. Yet this show of humanity is perhaps the downfall of Bob; empathy and understanding can be fatal characteristics for the seasoned serial killer.
The only real weakness in Chained is its ending which on first viewing seems frustrating, tacked-on and dissatisfying. Yet a second viewing is a lot more favourable as the viewer will notice clever nods and hints at the reveal which just wouldn’t register first time around – although one could still argue that what should be fifteen to twenty minutes of film is squeezed into five minutes. A second viewing also really ramps up and highlights the dark comedy and laugh-out-loud moments in Chained such as the psychotic Bob shouting at Rabbit, “You need to get laid. You are getting fucked up in the head” and “Are you trying to drive me fucking insane?”
Ultimately Chained is an excellent film and worthy successor to Lynch’s previous offering, Surveillance, released a few years ago. Chained is unflinching in its portrayal of violence and will make you feel uncomfortable, so you might want to watch this on an empty stomach.
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