Judge Bill Gibron once lived with a circus clown for six years.
While you be a man…or a murderer…or both?
Imagine being Jennifer Lynch. Imagine wanting to be a filmmaker—nay, an artist—and growing up in the celebrated shadow of one of, perhaps, the few true American genius auteurs still viable in today's motion picture culture. After all, David Lynch both defines and redefines aesthetic in celluloid (and later, digital). Now add on the burden of building off a creative canon that is less than spectacular. After the baffling splash of the stillborn Boxing Helena, she redeemed herself a bit with the droll serial killer procedural Surveillance. Things went downhill from there, however, with the Bollywood weirdness of Hisss (based on a myth surrounding a supposed snake woman and taken away from Lynch in post-production) and the more or less unseen Girls, Girls, Girls. Now comes Chained, a complicated bit of brutality that once again dives into the mind of a madman/murderer. While far more severe in tone and tenacity, it still highlights Lynch's struggling strengths…and obvious weaknesses.
The story centers around Bob (Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket), a psychopath who drives a cab and kidnaps people. He then takes them back to his dour and dingy house and murders them. One day, he snatches a mother (Julia Ormond, Legends of the Fall) and her young son (Evan Bird, The Killing). After systematically disposing of the former, he decides to adopt the latter as his very own. Nicknamed "Rabbit," the child soon grows up (Eamon Farren, X: Night of Vengeance) as Bob's abused and brutalized slave. He does all the "dirty work" and eats leftover table scraps while his "father" enjoys the sick psychosexual joys of his "job." Eventually, Bob decides that his "son" must follow in his footsteps. He demands Rabbit prepare personally and choose a victim. This raises questions in the young man's head. Does he want to follow in Bob's fatal footsteps, or find a way out of this unlikable, living Hell? Obviously, his decision will have repercussions far beyond the basic "parent/child" conundrum.
For the most part, Chained is pretty good (an alternate title, Rabbit, would have been much better at describing what is going on here). While Anchor Bay would have you believe that this is some kind of surreal, character-driven example of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer meshed with the tired torture porn genre, a la Saw or Hostel, this is actually more of a dark and disturbing "drama." Most of the deaths take place off screen and the premise/backstory play perfectly into the FBI profile cliche of what kind of man does these kind of things. Still, Lynch strives to have her actors enliven these otherwise unsympathetic roles, and they do so with varying results. D'Onofrio is excellent as usual as the slovenly, lisping cabbie filtering his fantasies through a haze of hate and hurting people. He seems to relish demeaning Rabbit and offers that rare commodity in cinematic villains—the tripwire threat. At any given moment, we fear Bob could "go off," leading to more pain and destruction than we already have experienced.
Farren is a bit more of a problem. Waif-like and weak (both in body and will), he comes across as a wannabe, an actor who's not quite up to the challenge of the material but is desperate to try. He's flat, and when compared to the actor who plays Rabbit as a child, he can't compete. We need a greater presence here, and Farren just can't deliver it. As for Lynch, she's efficient and often inspired. Her pacing is deliberate, since she's not just out to showcase a bunch of splatter. Instead, her approach appears to color her already shaded characters, providing them with ample room to breathe and expand. There's not a lot of her father's visual flair present, but Chained isn't supposed to be some ethereal example of dream logic. Instead, it wants to explore the harsh realities of what living with a serial killer might be like. While the tone is surprisingly misogynistic for a female filmmaker, the end result delivers an uneasy and often unnerving experience.
As for the Blu-ray itself, Anchor Bay provides an excellent digital package. While the movie suffers a bit from the standard "all horror must be bathed in a lack of legitimate color" conceit (read: lots of blacks, browns, and grays), the 1080p, 2.40:1 image is excellent. There's not a lot of depth or sense of space, but the visuals pop and the details are plentiful. As for the sound situation, there is a lossless TrueHD track that makes mediocre use of the supposed seven channels offered. Yes, we get ambient noises floating around the speakers, and there is a sense of immersion in parts, but overall, this a quiet film that seems to waste its expanded sonics. Luckily, at least one of the extras makes up for the lack of compelling audio. Lynch and D'Onofrio sit down for a full-length audio commentary and deliver an excellent behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of the production. While not a laugh riot, the track comes across as pleasant and professional. There is also an alternative version of one murder sequence, a trailer, and a DVD copy of the film.
In some ways, Chained is indicative of Lynch's creative problems throughout her career. On the one hand, she takes some standard genre material and twists it into a potentially interesting cinematic shape. Sadly, without her Dad's inspired way with visuals, all she can deliver is potential…and potential does not a fully realized fright film make. Chained is good. With Dave's daughter in charge, it was probably never going to be great.
Not guilty. It stumbles a bit yet still manages to crawl under your skin and
creep you out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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