Director: Jennifer Lynch
Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Gina Philips, Conor Leslie, Evan Bird, Jake Webber, Julia Ormond
Anchor Bay / Region A (1) / Rated R / 2.40:1 widescreen / Dolby TruHD 7.1 (Blu-ray), Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD) / Spanish subtitles / 94 minutes / BUY FROM AMAZON
Disk Extras: Audio commentary with Jennifer Lynch and Vincent D’Onofrio / Alternate murder scene / Restricted trailer
Brooklyn born actor Vincent D’Onofrio is well-known for mainstream roles like TVs Detective Goren from the smash hit Law & Order: Criminal Intent but 14 years earlier he was one of the many reasons that Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket was so haunting in the role of Private Leonard Lawrence aka “Private Pyle”. D’Onofrio’s slow, deliberate pace and hulking size brought a menace to the role that bordered on, but never crossed, the cheese line. In the scene following his “blanket party”, Pyle was transformed from a timid, seemingly mentally challenged man-boy to a killing machine ready to unleash Hell on his torturers and ultimately on himself. In that coldly blue-shaded bathroom, D’Onofrio’s character seethed with psychosis and dared anyone to step in front of his lethal rifle of vengeance. Since that time I have wondered how he would do in the role of a realistic human monster (not the metaphysical silliness of 2000′s The Cell where he played “Carl”).
Writer/director Jennifer Lynch is best known for writing the Twin Peaks novel “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” and being the youngest female writer/director in Hollywood when she attracted controversy with her sadistic and dark 1993 film Boxing Helena. And yes, she is the daughter of legendary director David Lynch but let’s not get caught up in the nepotism discussion as Ms. Lynch is perfectly capable of standing on her own merits. She obviously picked up the dark side of her father’s talent and it really comes out visually in her new bleak thriller Chained starring D’Onofrio as “Bob”, a serial killer who kidnaps, rapes and murders young women. One of the women he grabs has her 9-year-old son (who will later be named “Rabbit”) with her who Bob decides not to kill but to make his servant to clean up after the assaults and dispose of the bodies while only eating the table scraps from the killer’s table. After around 8-9 years of this (we aren’t given specifics, only a jump to Rabbit being an older teenager) Bob decides to teach his “son” his craft and give him the “freedom” that entails.
The title Chained seems a little needlessly sensational for a movie that isn’t really centered around Rabbit being literally chained up, but I suppose it could also be attributed to the metaphorical chains that he has with his captor. Jennifer Lynch’s skill behind the camera is evident in the grim atmosphere she creates along with cinematographer Shane Daly who also shot Eli Roth’s first two Hostel movies, which should give you a little insight on how this movie looks. It is primarily set in a dark, dank farmhouse out in the middle of Nowhereville, U.S.A. which really gives you the feeling of being boxed in (no “Helena” pun intended) and trapped with this abusive, menacing father-figure. D’Onofrio channels the spirit of Private Pyle for the character of “Bob” who is the same hulking, slovenly psychopath with a slight speech impediment and does so like it was an old, filthy glove. Relative newcomer Eamon Farren plays the teen version of “Rabbit” who is a gaunt, physically weak character but with the feeling of imminent death simmering just below the frightened little boy surface. Both actors play off of each other brilliantly with D’Onofrio’s bulk in stark contrast to Farren’s frailty.
Where the movie is a little weak comes in the ubiquitously “Hollywood” twist that can be seen coming like a badly written freight train and the left-field “surprise” ending that just made me feel cheated. There is also a psychological element to the plot that I, not being a trained mental health professional, didn’t think was quite valid. Rabbit has been subjected to numerous years (presumably over half of his now teenage life) of witnessing the rape, torture and murder of young females along with the abuse he himself has taken from Bob, yet he still has some moral code that he is willing to enrage his “father” over and absorb a severe beating or worse. It would seem, in my amateur psychologist standpoint, that Rabbit would at least not be sickened by the thought of murder and sexual assault after years of his brain having to compensate for the horrendous subjection to the lifestyle. At the most it would seem a viable reason for him to be curious to what it would be like to be the one in control of the fate of another person’s life. I think it may be just another symptom of Hollywood’s influence, imposing the “hero” syndrome into an otherwise gloomy and artistic endeavor.