Chained, written and directed by Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena, Hisss, Surveillance) is, by far, one of the most profoundly humanizing – and therefore, disturbing – slasher films I’ve ever seen.
Abducted at the age of 9 by a taxi driver named Bob, who tortures and murders his mother, Rabbit (played as a boy by Evan Bird and by Eamon Farren as a teenager) spends the bulk of his life chained to a small bed. Unable to escape, Rabbit quickly learns that to stay alive, he must do as he’s told.
That means eating only what’s left after he feeds his captor. That means cleaning the house – including the kill room, where Bob frequently slays hundreds of his female victims. That means removing the bodies and burying them in shallow graves beneath the house. That means sorting their personal possessions into meaningful stacks. Drivers’ licenses in a box. Money in a jar. Et cetera ad nauseum.
Tortured, psychologically belittled, Rabbit passes ten years in the living hell that is life with Bob. Installed as a kind of predecessor, Bob begins to take Rabbit under his wing, insistent that the boy should not be ignorant.
“You are not going to be ignorant,” he says one evening to Rabbit as the two sit in the small, dark kitchen of Bob’s house. ”Without an education, you’re f*cked.” He makes to Rabbit a gift of a human anatomy text book, telling him to learn what makes a person tick. From this point on, it’s clear Bob intends Rabbit to step into his shoes.
Vincent D’Onofrio stars as the serial killing taxi cab driver, Bob. A more human, centered portrait of a murdering psychopath has never been painted. In the moments of Bob’s silence and stillness is an eeriness that profoundly burns through the viewer’s feeling of safety. He sits there in his armchair, quietly picking away at the upholstery as he watches television. For all intents and purposes, docile and fulfilled. There’s nothing to fear of this man, and yet he is speckled with mud, or there is a faint brown stain on his undershirt, sweat covers his brow. There’s something, just there, beneath his surface.
Lynch is giving us something rare. She shows us the killer at rest. She gives us the portrait of a murderer as one of us.
This insidious tactic is brilliant on the part of Lynch.
It is this stark contrast, between the moments of calm and the moments of slaying in Bob’s house, that creates the entirely palpable and inescapably terrifying ambiance of Chained.
There are moments of extreme violence in Chained, but they are lessened in emotional punch because, ultimately, Lynch sets the bar early in the film, directing the viewer’s expectations and perceptions of what’s to come. Knowing what’s going to happen makes the violence less about the victim and more about the damage being done to Rabbit who must sit by and do nothing even as the women beg him for help.
I will confess that I’ve been a Lynch fan since Boxing Helena, for which Lynch stands as the youngest female writer/director. Chained, in my opinion, catapults Lynch to a new level of storytelling. Chained is everything you’re looking for when you seek out a psychological thriller/slasher film. The story is fresh despite having an ultimately (slightly) weak ending and remains my pick for best psychological thriller/slasher flick of 2012.
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