Writer/director Jennifer Lynch’s obsession with desolate places where all kinds of ‘life’ flourish, as well as rendering a human being helpless is evident again in her latest film, Chained, starring oddball crime cracker Vincent D’Onofrio from Law & Order: Criminal Intent fame. This thriller engages, terrifies and ultimately questions: It’s a claustrophobic and highly compelling human study of one man’s ‘norm’ being another’s ‘abnormal’ with powerful, psychological effect. The intriguing and unexpected end twist demands another viewing just to pick up the pointers, which are not initially evident.
A mother (Julia Ormond) and her young son, Tim (Evan Bird), are collected outside a cinema by a regular-looking cab driven by Bob (D’Onofrio). It soon becomes apparent that Bob is holding them hostage, and is a serial killer who stalks his female prey then takes them back home in his cab. Tim becomes his prisoner then reluctant protégé as he grows up into a man (later played by Eamon Farren) – renamed Rabbit by the killer. Bob and Rabbit develop an unusual father-son relationship, but ultimately, Rabbit must make a life or death choice between following in Bob’s footsteps or breaking free.
Lynch is quite brilliant at combining the disturbing with an all-together ‘familiar’ effect. Both this film and Boxing Helena, for example, may be horrors in the situations they present, but there is always a twisted ‘love’ angle that develops and overrides the obvious plotline – even when serial killing is involved. From the start it’s apparent that Bob is deviant and highly dangerous, but in trying to reach his ideal of perfection that he attempts to instil in his young charge, there are elements of fondness displayed that seem contrary to the supposed emotionless ‘monster’ or ‘psycho’ you expect. We are naturally horrified by his cold-blooded acts and violence against women, and make no excuses for them. However, as his character develops we are made to uncomfortably observe and analyse them while trying to displace any empathy felt through his disjointed thinking and flashbacks. This is the power behind Lynch’s storytelling.
D’Onofrio in the predatory role as Bob is quite a tour de force: To be honest, Detective Goren in the TV series is just as weird and passionate as Bob in personality that it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to witness him in this opposing role. Whether his playing Bob as someone with suggested learning difficulties in his speech delivery disarms his character a little to allow us to further explore his shades of grey is debatable; the actor seems more than comfortable playing parts on both sides of the law, setting an exciting precedent, hopefully, for more of such roles as Bob to come.
Lynch’s story does become a little too conventional near the end to allow her captor his moment, as well as for tying up the loose ends with the unexpected twist. This could be deemed as an unnecessary conclusion to portray, taking the story out of its intense claustrophobic context and removing the remnants of the warped relationship from beneath the microscope. However, in a way, it gives purpose to Tim/Rabbit’s violated being and evidence of how such a victim copes with his ordeal and begins thinking as an individual. Farren slightly overplays the suffering and guilty captor at times but is nevertheless physically compelling to watch.
Chained reinforces Lynch’s mastery in this genre as she deliberately dissects the abnormal within a standard thriller/horror context. It is first and foremost a character study and not a bloody, made-for-thrills horror escapade, as the writer/director thankfully continues to champion the misfit personality in her stories and challenge stereotypes.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie