Chained is a gripping, grueling experience. I had originally seen Jennifer Lynch’s latest film in August in one of the Screaming Rooms at Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear, part of FanExpo Canada. This feeling was only exacerbated upon a second viewing of the film, this time on the newly released Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay.
Chained, despite the title and subject matter (a serial killer keeps a young boy prisoner), is not a straight up horror movie, but is far more horrific than the mainstream, high-budget horror movies that have glutted theaters over the last few years.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Bob, a taxi driver who kidnaps women, brings them home, rapes and murders them, and forces his captive, Tim, to help him clean up the mess. It’s sordid, but to avoid the movie based on the synopsis would be a mistake.
Lynch and director of photography Shane Daly do an incredible job of creating an atmosphere of dread and emotional exhaustion. Set decorator Sara McCudden also helped create the feeling that we, too, are trapped in Bob’s house. Everything is yellow, brown, dark, dingy, and frighteningly realistic. This isn’t a perfectly dilapidated set; this is the normal-looking house of a normal-looking guy that is an entrance into hell.
In the Blu-Ray commentary, Lynch mentions that she shot Chained on a RED digital camera using anamorphic lenses. The grain on the screen, together with low, ambient lighting, gives an even grittier feeling to the film. The center of the screen is in sharp focus, while the edges blur and distort, which is an apt metaphor for the warped, myopic mental state of Bob himself.
As Bob, D’Onofrio is utterly chilling and repulsive, but Lynch, in her successful attempt to make the movie about something more than mere violence, has humanized him, which makes our sympathy for him feel even worse than our disgust. Bob renames Tim “Rabbit” which is a heartbreaking but remarkably prescient moniker. As young Rabbit, child actor Evan Bird is note perfect, but it is the older Rabbit, played expertly by Eamon Farren, who brings this haunted, wounded creature to life, a child who has imprinted upon a monster and now, as a young man, is lost.
There are scenes in Chained that are almost impossible to watch and those that will make you squirm uncomfortably, cry, or feel sick. Yet, the film isn’t short on pitch black humor and scenes which come across as clichéd or feel like a parody of what you think a movie about a serial killer who keeps a boy chained up in his house would look like. This tightrope act keeps viewers anxious, but it also points to a bigger picture than is indicated by the confines of Bob’s house.
The ending is dark yet hopeful, promising but bleak. Chained is a stark, uncompromising, and unforgiving film. It will linger on in your mind like a stain.
Chained was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Anchor Bay today. The Blu-Ray includes a trailer as well as an indispensable commentary track from Vincent D’Onofrio and Jennifer Lynch, the latter of whom proves to be the antithesis of a soulless, Hollywood schmoozer. She reveals that she wanted the title of the film to be Rabbit, but that it was changed to Chained without her consent (along with a few other changes she didn’t approve). Thinking of the film as Rabbit’s story casts an entirely new light on a movie that might appear to be exploitative on first glance.
There is also a deleted scene, which was edited digitally in the original release, because the MPAA felt it was far too realistic and gory for the rest of the film, and in Lynch’s words, would have likely required an NC-17 rating. Even edited, it’s the most blood-soaked scene in the film and watching it in context is quite shocking.