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As director Jennifer Lynch says in the commentary, Chained is not a horror movie, despite advertisements selling it as such. The film’s title was changed from Lynch’s preferred “Rabbit” to further this misconception along. It’s certainly horrifying, and doesn’t skimp on tension. If it reached enough of an audience, it may very well become that movie that scares people away from taking cabs. But I’m not really sure what kind of a movie it is, other than one that only needs to be watched once. That has to be a sub-genre by now, right?
As her third film since 2008, Chained may legitimize someone who would call this Jennifer Lynch’s “prolific period.” She and her father David are not known for product churning, usually skirting big studio work for passion projects. Regrettably, there appears to be a dearth of passion onscreen here.
The film is an objective look at the abduction and eventual assimilation of a young boy, Tim (Evan Bird), by a socially malignant serial killer, Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). After leaving father/husband Brad (Jake Weber), Tim and his mother Sarah (Julia Ormond) visit the theater, and are soon kidnapped by cab driving Bob and brought to his house on the outskirts of society. The mother’s assumedly violent death is heard offscreen, but the impact is strongly felt by her son and us viewers. With no other option visible to him, Bob unlawfully adopts the kid as his own, renaming him Rabbit, and forcing a rigid, restrictive way of life upon him, as told in a most un-stereotypical montage. Skip ahead some years, and the majority of the movie is spent with the older Eamon Farren in the role of Rabbit.
While certainly not enjoyable in its most common meaning, Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance is as effective as opposable thumbs. With his own childhood shown as steeped in mental and physical abuse, Bob’s methods of communication are limited to hollering demands and asking questions that lack curiosity. The nickname Rabbit is not given because the boy has big ears or a cute fluffy tail. He is weak, vulnerable prey--a pet on a chain leash. And much like a pet, Rabbit is dutifully trained, first to assist Bob in his violent deeds, and then though real education in the form of a medical book. They play games involving the memorization of victims’ driver’s licenses. Bob never thinks of Rabbit as a son, exactly, but shows real disappointment when Rabbit doesn’t get something right. Their relationship is nuanced, to say the least.
One might think he’s breaking the boy down to build him back up again, but this story isn’t that complicated. Lynch adapted her screenplay from Damian O’Donnell’s original script, which focused more on the story’s extreme violence, whereas Lynch is more interested in character. It’s an admirable choice, as plenty of directors would have stuck to the exploitative angle. The amount of violence shown, gory as some of it may be, works all the better for the limited access we’re given to it. Of course, the roughest scenes all involve bleeding women, so Lynch’s sexist-hating critics won’t be offering her a humanitarian award any time soon.
Knowing there was a different original vision for this film helps explain why some of the story and character beats feel off-kilter. I normally don’t need things spelled out for me, but why are Rabbit’s motivations to escape so passive? Why is Angie (Conor Leslie), after being taken captive later in the movie, so quick to offer her body for freedom, even when she’s told this wouldn’t work? The switcheroo ending, perhaps necessary to shock audiences into remembering a lesser movie, is a complete shift from everything that happens before it, cheapening the experience. Either extremely convenient or senseless, it’s too jarring and feels like it was tacked on during a moment of misguided creativity.
Even if I’d absolutely dreaded every minute of the film, I’d still recommend it solely on the strength of D’Onofrio’s performance. Using a stilted, slightly uneducated accent, he makes every scene more chilling, even when he’s only thinking of the next thing to say. Offsetting a teddy bear appearance, Bob uses his stout, lumbering frame to dwarf Rabbit’s, feeding him intimidation along with the table scraps. I got seriously uncomfortable considering the number of people in the world that share Bob’s station in life. For its faults, this is still one hell of an affecting film.
While not the pay cable bloodfest that its cover brings to mind, Chained is a smart detour into the dark world of long-term abduction. Long on acting, and short on story, it won’t make any top ten lists this year (unless they’re hyper-specific), but it is still worthy of your time. Maybe you’ll think twice about taking a cab. Oy, these fare prices!
As you can imagine, this is a film where aspect ratio doesn’t earn consideration. It’s Lynch’s first foray into digital video, so there’s a graininess behind everything, no matter how high the definition. Since Chained also comes with a DVD copy of the film, you get to choose.
I mentioned the commentary earlier, which Lynch shares with D’Onofrio. It’s full of similar details for all aspects of filmmaking. In more of a casual conversation than rigorous commentary, the two share laughs and stories, spending a good amount of time talking about D’Onofrio’s acting process for this film and in others. Listening to this track before writing this review probably boosted the disc review half a star.
The only other extra is an “alternate” take of the scene with Mary, the really drunk moron that Bob doesn’t even need to use trick to lure into the house. It looked like the same scene to me. Want a film trailer? It’s here, also.
Perhaps the perfect movie to usher autumn in to demolish summer’s rotting corpse, Chained is full of death, despair, and D’Onofrio. Not to be confused with Full Metal Jacket.
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