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Fantasia 2012: Chained (Directed by Jennifer Lynch)

08.06.2012by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: A young boy, Tim, and his mother (Julia Ormond) are abducted by a cab-driving serial killer, Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). After his mother is killed, Bob decides to raise Tim, who he renames Rabbit, as his own son. Ten years later, the now teenaged Rabbit (Eamon Farren) has spent the last decade chained up in Bob’s home- but, now that he’s approaching adulthood, Bob has decided that it’s time to teach Rabbit the family business- murder. Will Rabbit, after ten years in captivity be able to hold on to his humanity, or after being raised by a monster, will he turn into one himself?

REVIEW: CHAINED is the latest from Jennifer Lynch, a director who is no stranger to controversy. Her first film, BOXING HELENA was downright infamous, while her follow-up, SURVEILLANCE shook up audiences (in a good way) when it played Fantasia a few years ago. In the years between that film, and CHAINED, Lynch travelled to India, where she made a film, HISSS- that turned out so badly that there’s a documentary- DESPITE THE GODS, about its troubled production that’s also at this year’s edition of Fantasia (look for a review shortly).

CHAINED is a comeback for Lynch, who’s proving herself to be a filmmaker that’s just as unconventional as her famous father- David Lynch. However, where he experiments with craft, she looks inward, putting the audience inside the heads of vicious characters most of us would never want to think about for any extended period of time. As such, CHAINED is a deeply troubling film- that probably owes more to psychological thrillers like SE7EN and MANHUNTER, than straightforward horror like SAW, despite what the NC-17 rating may lead you to believe.

Spending ninety minutes inside the head of a serial killer may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly, CHAINED was a very difficult film to watch at times. That said, monsters such as Bob are all too real, and CHAINED is one of the first movies to come along in a while that tries to take a serious look at the kind of abuse that creates such a man. As Bob, Vincent D’Onofrio turns in a towering performance. This is not an easy role, and D’Onofrio, Lynch, and writer Damian O’Donnell have made sure that Bob can’t just be dismissed as a two-dimensional boogie man. While an evil, twisted killer- D’Onofrio still injects moments of inner turmoil, such as a really strong sequence where Bob picks up an abusive father as a fare, leading to flashbacks which reveal his own twisted upbringing at the hands of a vicious parent.

It’s this nature vs. nurture debate that seems to be at the heart of CHAINED. Lynch never goes so far as to say Bob’s upbringing is totally responsible for the way he turned out- but by having Rabbit suffering similar abuse at Bob’s hands, the question at the heart of CHAINED isn’t whether or not Rabbit’s going to escape, but whether he’s going to let Bob turn him into a monster. As amazing as D’Onofrio is, I was just as taken by Eamon Farren’s performance as Rabbit. He has that fragile look of a boy who’s grown up under the thumb of a monster, but there’s enough of a spark in his eye that you can tell he hasn’t totally allowed his humanity to be taken away from him.

Which brings me to the NC-17…

Watching the uncut version of CHAINED that played Fantasia, its obvious this rating wasn’t for violence. While it’s certainly gruesome, it’s no more violent than SE7EN, and a great deal less gory than any of the SAW movies. CHAINED depicts violence in a raw, disturbing way- which to me feels about 1000x more responsible than the way most horror movies try to make it “cool”, or even worse- “titillating”. CHAINED is many things, but it’s definitely not exploitation- and this rating is a joke.

As Lynch herself said in the Q&A after the film, the MPAA’s main complaint was that CHAINED felt too real, and truly- it does. It’s a raw, unpleasant film, but it’s also a very involving and fascinating one. While a twist late in the film felt a little tacked on- other than that, the film as a whole was pretty damn excellent. It certainly re-establishes Lynch as a filmmaker to watch, as CHAINED is obviously the work of a director that’s truly becoming a master of her craft.

Extra Tidbit: CHAINED makes an interesting companion to another film feature D'Onofrio as a serial killer- THE CELL.

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