“This is your world now.”
The H-Bomb: 9-year old Tim (Evan Bird) and his mother (Julia Ormond) come out of an afternoon movie and wave down a taxi to take them home. What they fail to realize, until it’s way too late, is that this is one taxi they never should have gotten into, as the cab’s driver, Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio), is what psychiatrists would label, in technical terminology, a fucking psycho. He drives the mother and son out to his very secluded house, where he takes the mom to his bedroom and proceeds to rape and kill her. One would think that the next logical step for Bob would be to dispatch Tim, as well, but no, Bob has plans for Tim . . .
As Bob himself puts it, he did not ask Tim, but he is stuck with him, so he might as well make the most of it. He decides to imprison Tim in his home as his slave. Tim’s duties around the house include the usual things; keeping the place clean, preparing meals, helping Bob bury his young female victims when he’s finished with them, cutting out news stories about Bob’s victims and pasting them into a scrapbook.
Bob also lays down some ground rules for Tim. Tim is not allowed to eat or drink anything without permission, and he’s only allowed to eat whatever Bob leaves on his plate. Tim is not allowed to watch TV, or steal anything, or take longer than ten seconds to let Bob into the house when he comes home at night, or try to escape. If Tim attempts any of these things, or does anything else that Bob does not like, Bob will give him a beating. After Tim’s one and only escape attempt, Bob puts a shackle on a chain around his ankle, ensuring that he won’t do it again.
This is Tim’s world now, trapped inside a house where all the windows are boarded up, so he can’t tell if it’s night or day, playing housekeeper for this madman. On top of everything else, Bob christens Tim with a new name . . . Rabbit.
About ten years pass. Physically, Rabbit (now played by Eamon Farren) has grown into a man, but mentally . . . yeah, he’s still that subservient little kid, and he’s still living under Bob’s rule. The two of them have forged a very warped Father/Son relationship, and Bob has decided it is now time to groom Rabbit as a protégé, so he gives Rabbit “the gift of knowledge” that will help him understand “The Human Puzzle.” In other words, he gives Rabbit a book of human anatomy to study, so he can start raping and killing women himself. Soon after, Bob starts pressuring Rabbit to find a girl of his own, but despite all the years he’s lived with Bob, Rabbit has never acquired his taste for blood and torture.
Is Rabbit doomed to follow in Bob’s bloody footsteps, or will he be able to break free from his chain and come out from under Bob’s rule?
What’s the difference between Chained, which is by every rationale a horror film, and something like a Sinister or a Paranormal Activity? Well, the latter two are ghost stories, which can be effective, but ultimately, the audience knows that they’re fake. The situation in Chained, however, is all too plausible, thus making it all the more scary on a much deeper level. While Sinister will startle you with loud bangs and other such jump scare tactics, the depiction of human evil in Chained will make your skin crawl, and many of the scenarios, especially involving the younger Rabbit (such as his one escape attempt), will make you avert your eyes from the screen and squirm in discomfort.
Had Chained played out like cheap, ultra-violent torture porn, which it could very easily have done, it would have been irredeemable, unwatchable garbage. But, in the restrained hands of writer/director Jennifer Lynch, the graphic violence was played down (though it’s still graphic), and the psychology and the interactions of the two lead characters was played up, so while Chained is extremely unsettling and unpleasant, it never turns into a trashy exploitation movie.
But, wait . . . who directed this again? Ah yes, Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of the great David Lynch, whose resume has been rather . . . mixed with this reviewer. A quick rundown of her work for the uninitiated; Boxing Helena is every bit as bad as its reputation would have you believe, Surveillance was a fun-if-sleazy thriller, with Hisss she pisssed away any goodwill she had with me from Surveillance, and now with Chained she has hopped from my shit list back onto my cool list again. Maybe I’m just fated to only like her even numbered outings, who knows? What I do know is that Chained is, no doubt, her best film.
While I did enjoy Surveillance, it was more of a guilty pleasure for me than an honest to God good movie. Chained, on the other hand, is an honest to God good movie. What makes it so good is that Lynch fully accomplishes what she set out to do, to tell a story that provokes thought in the audience while making them as uncomfortable as possible at the same time. The set up of the story, one person holding another captive, is similar to Boxing Helena, only this time Lynch has figured out how to execute such a premise without making it ridiculous and/or boring.
She is aided to a large extent by her three principle actors, D’Onofrio, Farren, and Bird. As Bob, the monster of the story, D’Onofrio, with the weird speech impediment he gives the guy, is freaky, frightening, and totally human. We get flashbacks of Bob’s traumatic, incestuous childhood, but they seemed almost unnecessary as it comes through in D’Onofrio’s performance that his past has made him into the lunatic, nutball he is today (those flashbacks, as well as a last minute plot twist, are the film’s only missteps). D’Onofrio is essentially playing the same character he played in The Cell, only here he is far more fleshed out and dimensional than that one note psycho, thus he is a far more credible character who is much more effective at just utterly creeping the shit out of the audience.
Bird, as young Rabbit, is difficult to watch as a frightened kid who is at first defiant, but whose spirit is gradually but surely broken by his captor. Watching him slowly become more and more accepting of his situation is as sad as it is troubling. Farren, as the adult Rabbit, flawlessly embodies a young man who has been irreparably traumatized; he nails the look of someone who’s been eating nothing but table scraps for ten years, and who has, as evidenced by the deadness in his eyes, shut down mentally over time, though he hasn’t lost his humanity, entirely. I’ve never seen him in anything before, but if his performance here is any indicator, I will be seeing more of him in the future.
Overall, while Chained is a horror film, it’s not exactly one for the Halloween season. It’s not the kind of flick where you can invite friends over, break out the beer and pizza, and have a good time with (stick with The Evil Dead if that‘s your thing). It’s much heavier and uglier than your average horror movie, one that delves to a level of depravity that very few would ever dare. The best way to put it in a nutshell: even by Lynch family standards, Chained is one super fucked up flick!