Unashamed at its confrontational story, but actually surprisingly careful in its depiction of gratuitous scenes of unpleasantness, Chained sees Jennifer Lynch return with a film that combines the socially unpleasant with the visually unpleasant but makes sure that the whole remains simple in its realisation.
Tim (Evan Bird) and his mother are abducted in a ‘comfort’ taxi driven by Bob (a chilling performance by Vincent D’Onofrio). They are taken to Bob’s remote house and Tim’s mother is killed. Bob kills. A lot. That’s what he likes doing. Tim, however, is not killed. Renamed Rabbit, Bob adopts the young boy and chains him up inside his home. As the years go by, Rabbit grows up and has learned to live a new life, one that involves an isolated existence and multiple murders.
With a horrific premise, Chained deals with issues and relationships in a multitude of ways resulting in a film that is part shock thriller, part art cinema and part modern noir. Graphic nastiness in this abnormal family’s day-to-day life both mocks and shocks, defying expectations, for this film depicts a psychopathic surrealist portrayal of a bizarre life that becomes normality for an abducted little boy. The way the relationship between Bob and Rabbit develops is hugely important; it makes sure that the film doesn’t simply fall into the realm of the gratuitously nasty. The surreal aspects remove it from that of a simple crime or serial killer drama and also eradicate the investigative requirements of a detective fiction. Instead the whole is predominantly character driven but with depictions of oddness that lie at the heart of Rabbit’s attempts to cope with living within the house of a deranged man. The mix of genre conventions is not unfamiliar to Jennifer Lynch – her previous film Surveillance (2008) combined a police thriller with surrealist aspects that were filmed in a confrontational manner and Chained likewise offers insights that combine a mainstream narrative structure with elements of the bizarre to produce a modern drama with shocking slasher-killer aspirations. Indeed the themes of peculiar incarcerations and savage relationships can also be seen in Lynch’s debut Boxing Helena (1993), although the strength here is that it takes the notably vicious elements and forces them to be depicted as ‘normal’, which tries to lull the viewer into a sense of familiarity with the narrative as much as it forces Rabbit to come to terms with his new life. Predominantly set in one location – a grimy, dimly lit house filled with secret rooms – this adds to the intensity and claustrophobia of the piece.
Shocking, graphic and unpleasant, Chained is nevertheless a thoroughly engaging example of character based drama and serial killer crime movie with hints of plausible surrealism.