FrightFest 2012 Review: Chained
Review by Stephanie Scaife
Okay, so I have a confession to make and I may be entirely alone in this but I actually kind of like Boxing Helena. There, I said it. Of course I mean in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of a way, but I certainly don’t regard it as one of the worst films ever made, as do some. I’ve kept a close eye on Jennifer Lynch over the years and particularly enjoyed Surveillance (2008), despite its flaws, so was eager to check out her new film Chained, which had arrived at FrightFest with a certain amount of buzz and controversy after receiving the notorious NC-17 rating (which is frankly ridiculous).
The opening sequence of Chained is really something special: Sarah (Julia Ormond) and her 9 year old son Tim (Evan Bird) go to see a movie and have a great time together. After leaving the cinema they flag down a cab to take them home. However, things take a turn for the worse when the cab driver misses their exit and drives them out to his secluded bungalow. The cab driver is Bobby (Vincent D’Onofrio) and he is a serial rapist and murderer of women. Bobby views Tim as an unwelcome addition to his routine, but realises that the boy could be useful so after dispatching his mother he chains the boy up and puts him to work, cleaning, preparing meals, and generally living a life of servitude. This scene is so tense and wonderfully played out that in a way it sets you up for a fall, and the rest of the film never quite reaches the level of greatness reached in the first ten minutes.
Flash forward approximately ten years and Tim – now re-named Rabbit (Eamon Farren) by his captor – is still chained in Bobby’s house, cleaning, cooking and helping get rid of the numerous bodies. Bobby seems to have softened somewhat towards the boy over the years and plans to promote him from reluctant servant to willing protégé. First of all he gives the boy books and encourages him to learn, something Rabbit excels at as he spends hours pouring over medical text books, learning about anatomy and how people work. Soon Bobby is buying Rabbit new clothes, his own chair and even unchaining him. But then we are faced with that age old question; is evil innate or can it be taught? Will Rabbit finally, after all these years, follow in the footsteps of his captor, or will he use his new found freedom to make his escape?
Chained is admittedly a difficult watch, one which is fascinating, intermittently rewarding but ultimately flawed. D’Onofrio is convincingly terrifying as Bobby; I swear that man was born to spend his life playing psychopaths and loose cannons, and both the actors portraying Rabbit turn in believable and heartbreaking performances. Where this film excels in particular is in the relationship between these two main characters, which is tense and often unpredictable, leaving the audience puzzling over their motivations and the games that they play with each other. Their existence is extreme, but even murder can become mundane, as each girl is dragged through the house and Rabbit goes through the motions of putting any cash they had in a jar, memorising the information on their driving licences and updating Bobby’s macabre scrap-book of news articles relating to his crimes. Day in, day out. That is, until Bobby decides that Rabbit needs a woman and brings home Angie (Conor Leslie).
Where Chained ultimately falls foul is in the last quarter, in which we’re subjected to a pretty dreadful “twist” ending. For me this almost spoiled the entire film and I was genuinely angry when I left the cinema. But on reflection, the entire film should not be judged on the ending, and after stewing for a few hours I realised that there was still much to admire. During the Q&A afterwards with Jennifer Lynch, I got the distinct impression that this was ultimately a paid gig for her and she’d done her absolute best with some dodgy material, and was keen to state that she hoped to realise a director’s cut as much of the ending had been edited to meet length requirements. This is something I for one would be keen to see.
I was pleased that along with American Mary, we had two very strong additions to the FrightFest line-up from female filmmakers – something few and far between in a genre so male dominated, both in terms of the filmmakers and the audience. Jennifer Lynch is an interesting filmmaker and I am convinced that there is a masterpiece in her somewhere. Chained comes dangerously close, but is let down by its god awful ending. Still, with the plethora of mediocre and downright bad horror films we all endure Chained is well worth a watch, and fingers crossed it will be a stepping stone on to bigger and better things from Lynch after years of misfires.
Chained comes to DVD and Blu-Ray in the US from 2nd October; no UK release details have been announced yet.