Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter of hugely respected oddball auteur David Lynch, made a rather inauspicious start to her own directing career with Boxing Helena, the very dark, very terrible tale of a psychopath and his slave, which came saddled with a notoriously infuriating climax. There have been highs and lows for Chambers Lynch since that stumbling debut, the effectively creepy Surveillance a high, the ludicrous snake person horror Hssss the low. Now Chambers Lynch returns with her latest grisly effort, Chained, another dark tale of a psychopath and his slave, with an ending many critics regarded as being just as infuriating as Boxing Helena‘s. A case of history repeating itself? Or has Chambers Lynch learned from the mistakes that blighted her debut feature?
The fairly simple backbone of the story revolves around the snatching of a 9 year old boy and his mother by a cab driving serial killer named Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). Upon their arrival at Bob’s home, the mother is immediately murdered, while the boy, renamed Rabbit by his monstrous captor, becomes first a slave and eventually an unwilling participant in Bob’s sickening crimes.
Chained is essentially a drama with elements of horror, a two hander that relies more on the performances at its centre than any amount of graphic violence or gore. In this regard it is pretty much an unmitigated success, the complex relationship between Bob and his slave/ward is fascinating, taking on a Bride of Frankenstein like quality, the story of one monster seeking to create another monster as its companion. Both actors that play Rabbit are excellent. Evan Bird only gets a fairly brief role as the 9 year old Rabbit, but aquits himself very well. Eamon Farron, who plays Rabbit as a teenager, has a much more substantial role and much more heavy lifting to do in terms of Rabbit’s transformation, much of which he has to do through body language alone, his dialogue seriously, and understandably, limited. It probably helped no end that the young actor got to act opposite a fantastically on form D’Onofrio, a hugely skilled and underrated character actor who really gets under the skin of his monstrous killer, fleshing him out and humanising him to great, and often terrifying, effect. His performance made me recall my favourite movie serial killer, brought to life chillingly by Michael Rooke in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, both Rooker and D’Onofrio recognising the inherent horror in the banality of evil.
A movie set almost entirely in one location as Chained is, requires that the set design be inspired to such a degree that it works almost as a character in itself, here again Chained succeeds greatly. Horror films have often enjoyed taking pot shots at the so called nuclear family ideals of 50’s America, and Chained does the same, presenting a totally warped take on a comfy 50’s family home. The horror is all in the details, murder rooms lit grotesquely by fairy lights, anatomy models and text books littered throughout, a teddy bear nanny cam used to film Bob’s murders, Chambers Lynch takes the ideal of an all American family and turns it inside out.
It’s a shame then that, despite such strong performances and impressive production values, Chained is so much less than the sum of its parts. It’s tricky to put my finger on what important element is missing, but come the credits Chained had left little impression on me, and not just because of its thoroughly daft and unnecessary coda. There is still something a little uninspired and workmanlike in Chambers Lynch’s direction that drained a certain amount of the power her terrific cast worked so hard to create.
As a showcase for D’Onofrio and young newcomer Farron, Chained is an unqualified success, but as a whole, as a complete movie, it feels lacking some vital spark that would have given it the sort of raw power that leaves a viewer reeling come the credits.
Chained is out on DVD and blu-ray 4th February 2013.
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Stars: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird
Runtime: 94 min