Jennifer Lynch’s brand new film Chained is out on February 4, 2013 and it’s also the subject of the premiere episode of the This Is Horror podcast. For those of you who can’t wait for the podcast or aren’t such a fan of the audio format, here’s our interview with Jennifer.
There’s a lot of dark comedy in Chained and Surveillance which really hits home on a second viewing. Can you tell us about the dark comedy in both films?
JL: That is very intentional and I realise I’m taking a risk in not having it as obvious on first viewing. I hope people will watch it twice and see that I’m attempting humour in a dark way – I’m not trying to make the subject matter laughable but rather to honour the fact that sometimes violence can be incredibly absurd, and sometimes every once in a while a chuckle, no matter how nervous, can save your life.
And what do you think it is that makes horror and comedy such easy bedfellows?
JL: I don’t know but they’re two of my greatest loves and that’s why they seem to fit together for me. One of the moments in Chained that always gets me – and I’m quite often the only person in the audience laughing – is when Vincent [D’Onofrio] is smashing his hand into his head asking Rabbit if he’s trying to make him fucking insane. The suggestion that it’s the kid trying to make him insane is so absurd, and yet that character believes that and wants to know, “are you really trying to drive me crazy, kid?” But that’s so human and there’s so much ha-ha in people being wrong sometimes.
The line you highlighted is one of my favourites, coupled with “you have got to get laid, you are getting fucked up in the head.”
JL: A friend of mine read the finished script and he said, “Oh my God, Jen, the fact that you have him telling the kid he’s got to get laid because he’s getting fucked up in the head has got to be one of the best things ever” and I said “yeah but I think he actually believes that it will clear his head to get fucked. It’ll straighten you right out. It’ll put her and you in your place.” And Vincent’s delivery is exactly what I wanted – Bob’s got to believe everything he says and Vincent has done that masterfully.
JL: This was very conscious on my part. Hopefully, even on the first viewing, Vincent seems as invested in Rabbit as Rabbit needs to be in him. And ultimately on the second viewing you realise that when Bob is sitting at the kitchen table and asks Rabbit “did your father toss a ball around with you after school and on Sundays?” he’s asking about his own brother – about the kid he protected as they were both children. You know Bob took the hits and the bullets for his brother so he didn’t have to, and now he is without his brother and all this brother thinks of him is that he’s a dumping ground for his wife and son. So the boy that took all those hits is still inside Bob and is lonely – he longs for his brother and also longs for a playmate – but he is in the body of this grown man who’s angry and has become a monster filled with pain and rage. So there’s as much wanting to parent the boy as to corrupt him and impart damage on him. I think hopefully in there there’s a real sense that he does need Rabbit. He keeps him alive, not just to groom him and to do bad things, but to be the companion that he’s longed for since he lost his brother.
Do you think Bob’s desire to have a father-son bond with Rabbit could be construed as a type of therapy to help him deal with his own father issues?
JL: Absolutely. And to handle that lost relationship in his own childhood by being what he thinks is a good parent, “Because without an education your fucked.” This sort of after school special sound-bite education is all that Bob had in between beatings. So he’s trying to be different and yet he’s repeating the same cycle. But I think it’s very therapeutic; Bob will never get better but he’s trying. The human spirit is such that even in a broken mass of emotions and bones there is the yearning to be loved and to not be alone.
A lot of your films are about the dark and light sides of humanity. In terms of the world we live in, do you think there is too little emphasis on rehabilitation and too much emphasis on punishment?
JL: Yes I do. It’s a movie and I’m not trying to cure cancer, but I did want to create, within the entertainment and horror, a dialogue about child abuse because that to me is how real monsters are made. And we have absolutely no business behaving shocked when someone behaves badly and hurts others if we know they’ve been hurt as a child. So, we have to go to the source – the abusers. And because the abusers were more often than not abused themselves, it’s this cycle of damage and it doesn’t make it okay but it explains it. We know enough that we should be paying attention to that. I don’t know that paedophiles and killers can ever be rehabilitated but we can certainly rescue children from situations where that behaviour becomes contagious.
JL: I knew I was setting out to make something horrific and what I wanted to do was dance between what I think are the most powerful things. I am incredibly disappointed with how palatable most films make violence – not that that cant be enjoyable in your action flick – but the reason I shy away from torture porn is that’s not sexy to me and that’s not scary to me; it’s just repellent. What I think is really important about the violence is that it feels bad; it should feel bad – violence is not good. And I think most of the power in violence is the hearing and suggestion of it. I wanted to credit the audience with being able to come up with more horrific things than I can create and to give them their independence to see what they wanted to see. What scared them? What were they afraid to see which was going on behind the garage door when Rabbit hears his Mother die? So I wanted to treat the audience as intelligent and give them their own voice in it as much as really sell the fact that this is a terrible situation – I wasn’t going to make it easy to watch. Someone came up to me and said “I was so uncomfortable” and I said “well it’s a really terrible story, I wanted you to be uncomfortable.” If it felt like a soft cushy chair I would be doing the story a great disservice, so it shouldn’t be easy to watch but it should feel like it’s about what it’s about, which is a very broken sick man who’s a real life monster. A human monster keeps a boy after killing his mother and for ten years they live together in a small house in the middle of nowhere – that should feel pretty crumby.
Initially this script was a torture porn script and you had to make a lot of cuts from it. Can you tell us a bit about this?
JL: I was sent the script for Chained and was really intrigued by the idea of a killer who drove a taxi cab and the kidnapping of the boy but I didn’t gravitate towards the way the man killed – there was no understanding of the killer within that. There was an entire B-story where detectives were pursuing the killer of all these women and to me it was a lot more frightening to think of Bob getting away with it, and of being trapped in the house along with Rabbit. The only time we leave there is in bits and pieces when Bob goes out, or when they go out together; otherwise we are just as captive as Rabbit is and what I changed mostly was how Bob suffers each day and what he thinks power is and what he thinks hurts – and sometimes to impart wisdom on the boy in a terrible way he kills. But I wanted to know why so I created the nightmare and removed the detectives because I’ve seen that movie, I hadn’t seen this one. I wanted to deal more with the actual people rather than cutting pieces of women off and letting them die slowly. That just seemed unnecessary to me.
JL: I didn’t do any research. Damien [O’Donnell – writer] might have a different answer, I don’t know if he researched serial killers. The sad truth is it’s a thing that happens in reality; people are taken and seemingly they disappear but they are help captive and bad things happen. But what I did, out of respect for those real life case, is to not try and assume I knew what they had gone through. What I try to do with each piece I write and direct is ask if I were this person what would I do and why would I do it. And I do this for every character in every movie. So really the situation was based on the original script which I thought was incredibly potent. The characters’ behaviour is based on what I thought I would do if I were them and had that kind of damage. The result is something I hadn’t seen and explored before.
How do you feel the Climax Golden Twins’ soundtrack adds to the mood?
JL: They are so fucking brilliant. Rob Millis is one of the greatest composers ever if you ask me. I so deeply appreciate how he understood what I wanted – less is more. I love low beds of tone – there’s a great power in how loud silence can be. I really wanted to play with how scary it can be when there isn’t crazy music playing and there isn’t music leading you to feel a certain way. You’re watching something as if someone’s taking a chicken out of the oven but in fact it’s a woman being killed. Rob is a genius and I’m so grateful to have collaborated with him.
And will the soundtrack receive a release?
JL: God, that is a great question. It sure would be nice if it did. I’ll have to ask. I still haven’t been sent a copy of my own movie. In fact the only reason I own Boxing Helena, Surveillance and Chained is because my fiancée bought them all.
I’ll have to find out about the soundtrack, but that would be wonderful. Rob deserves it and I think the film deserves it. I’m so thrilled that the UK was brave enough to release the film in theatres because nobody else did. It was a relatively low budget, shot in fifteen days, and all the money went on-screen; it should be seen big and loud – so I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it a second time and it still carried its weight.
JL: And the fact I was given an NC17 here until I spent the entire budget of my director’s cut painting out the throat slit when Mary dies. They just kept telling me it feels too real, and yet all sorts of terrible things happen in R rated movies and yet that’s okay because it’s made sexy or funny. I would much rather my child sees a violent film which feels violent and then has a discussion with me afterwards. I think there’s more damage done to kids when violence is made palatable and they don’t know how awful it really is. That’s the poison not exposure to how horrible things can really be.
You illustrated the violence with the real world in the ‘powder room’ with the teddy bear; juxtaposing violence and calm. Did anything inspire this frame?
JL: I think cinema in general is the most public and permissive taboo in the world. It is voyeurism at its purest. We pay money to sit in a dark room and watch other people live out their lives. It is essentially legal peeping tomism. I love the idea of normal things becoming frightening. People who look safe and average can be very dangerous, who knows what’s happened to them and what choices they’re making. I’ve always thought if I could make a teddy bear or a toothbrush frightening then I win, so I think that the powder room and language like that, and the teddy bear nanny cam and a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere are great things to make a bit haunting or have people question.
In Chained you make a cameo as the cooking host.
JL: What’s funny about that is I’d been told by the producers we had no money for stock footage and we couldn’t do anything more. One of the producers had a flip cam, so we got a little fake kitchen setup and in one take I just did a fake cooking show with a cigarette hanging out my mouth – and there it was! Free footage!
Will we be seeing any future cameos?
JL: It depends on whether or not there’s a budget. If I can hire an actor you probably won’t be seeing me again. I’m actually in Boxing Helena as well, as one of the party guests, and I’m in the backseat of the station wagon in every single shot in Surveillance – I’m under the blue blanket in the backseat. But other than that who knows.
JL: I tend to have a differing opinion than that of most filmmakers with regards to auditions and rehearsals. What’s most important to me in working with people is can we communicate, so I’m not concerned about their audition tape as much as I am about: do we understand each other, are we going to get along, if I say this do they hear that? And so it was very easy for me, whatever it is, it was very clear to me that both Evan and Eamon and of course Vincent who were all hired over Skype, or the phone, were the perfect people for the job. I deeply dislike rehearsals, I think they’re mood killers, so I think conversations are great and I think blocking whilst doing flat line readings are great so everyone feels solid and knows where they’re going. The first time actors ‘go for it’ and I’m rolling the camera, they should feel that I’ve trusted them, that they’ve communicated with me, that I’ve heard them and they’ve heard me; it’s a collaboration. Because I never want to say to an actor “can you go again and can you do what you did in that rehearsal?” That’s just toxic and terrible, so, yes everyone should know their places and we do a rehearsal for them and for camera, but especially with emotionally weighted material it’s no good. I think that starting with conversations and learning to trust each other immediately is important and I owe a great debt to Skype for that.
Is a lot of what we’re seeing first take material in Chained and Surveillance?
JL: Yes. In a lot of scenes, we’ve all being talking and everyone’s excited. I rarely do more than three takes. I’m usually between one and two, and a third in case an actor says “you know that thing we discussed can I try one of those?” My job is to have a plan so that that plan can change. Spontaneity is so magical and I just need to make sure I’m telling the story that I set out to tell. But once I’ve written a character and an actor steps into that skin, they have something to tell me about them, too, and I need to listen to that. So you are seeing, in most cases, either the first or third take.
JL: I know, that guy – wow! Dream come true. And Vincent’s just so completely brave and genuine. We had discussions and I said to Vincent, “Bob is not a stupid man by any stretch. Bob has been hit in the head so many times and made so frightened and panicked, that he comes off slow like a boxer who’s had too many fights. And his body is surprisingly heavy on his bones and words – it’s hard for him to get the words to come out the way he thinks they should sound. But that little child in him that was so deeply abused is still there; the top of that boy’s head is where his belly begins, so always know he’s right there. I just wanted him to feel how heavy his body was with his gait and to show me that there was a struggle to say things but that he wasn’t an idiot, he was a damaged child, and part of him was frozen as a boy and part of him was a very grown up wounded man. Vincent did the rest – he ‘got it’ and I knew he got it. From that moment on there were only a couple of times when we had to converse about certain things because I would see something and I would get a look on my face, and I would get an idea, and I’d go over to Vincent and I’d say “okay I have an idea. It’s not in the script but I think it should be in the movie.” He’d listen to me and nod and I could tell he was absorbing it because on many occasions these ideas were a little rough and he was going to have to really trust me. He would nod his head and he would say I’m going to do this only once. And I’d say okay I’m going to shoot it; all those moments are in the movie.
Will you be working with Vincent again on future releases?
JL: I will – he’s in my next picture, Fall From Grace, playing an entirely different kind of character which will be really fun for people to see. He will be co-starring with Tim Roth and several other magical actors.
Can you tell us a bit about the film?
JL: Tim Roth is the lead, he plays a homicide detective who has been shot in the line of duty whilst attempting to find the killer of these young girls, and he’s failed miserably at it – according to himself – because the girls are still dying. Because of the pain he has emotionally there’s a lot of family wreckage and he has physical pain because he has become deeply addicted to drugs and alcohol. Yet he is still trying to save his own life before he kills himself and it’s his pursuit of this killer alongside the multitude of dynamics that there are in a wrecked and wounded man’s life. In other words it’s another romantic comedy.
Do you have any plans for writing and directing television?
JL: I do. Last year I did four episodes of TV and they were a blast; three episodes of the comedy Psych and one episode of Warehouse 13. Both of them have been picked up again so I’m hoping to go back. I love television, I think it’s a more intimate way to be voyeuristic because now we have these moments in our own home, in our underwear, which we can stop and start at will where we’re watching other people and that is incredibly naughty but allowed. I think people like that and I think television is able to do what in many ways films seem to have stopped doing which is be a little more brave. I think most theatrically released films are either very very tiny or very very big. And that doesn’t seem right to me. There’s no middle class of films if you will.
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