Jennifer Lynch’s Chained
Jennifer Lynch is no stranger to controversy – her grisly 1993 Boxing Helena made her Hollywood’s youngest female writer and director, and garnered some unflattering comparisons to the subtler work of her father, the acclaimed director David Lynch. Her latest offering Chained is sure to generate a similar buzz, cross-hatching over the lines that slice up contemporary horror movies – torture porn, psychological suspense thriller, stalker slasher flick – to create an upsetting, but ultimately uninspiring exploration of humanity’s murkiest nadirs.
Chained is built around an unnerving but unoriginal premise: a serial-killing cab driver who uses his position to abduct, torture and cut up attractive young women in his remote, sound-proofed bungalow. After a trip to the cinema, Sarah (Julia Ormond) and her nine-year-old son (Evan Bird) are picked up by the murderous cabbie Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio). While the mother meets a grisly, shrieking end, Bob is unsure what to do with the little boy. In order to make use of him, Bob renames the child Rabbit, chains him up and uses him as a domestic helper. His first job is to dispose of his mother’s sliced-up corpse. As Rabbit grows (into a young man of sharp, vampiric good looks, played by an unsmiling, unsympathetic Eamon Farren), their relationship takes on a dark, father-son dynamic that culminates in Bob teaching his boy the family business: hunting, raping, murdering the “sluts and whores” he picks up in his taxi. The tension – what us audience members are meant to engage most with – arises over Rabbit’s attempt to hold onto his humanity in the face of abject, systematic depravity.
The unrelenting awfulness makes for pretty hard viewing at times. There is a fine line between essential, driving narrative detail and Lynch’s gruesome, almost rapturous delight in the sheer depravity of Bob’s activities. As the bodies of the young women pile up, he and Rabbit gather enough drivers’ licenses to play a sinister card game, guessing the victims’ weights, hair colours, and ages at the time of murder. In a later scene, Rabbit chooses his first “girlfriend” from a high school year book. Such morbid minutiae lend the film a weighty, remorseless desolation. The high walls, chains and surrounding fields are ostensibly what keep Rabbit from running away, but the film also taps into a gloomier undercurrent, pointing to a total gulf in the goodness of humanity that also, one suspects, stops him from wanting to escape. The attention to detail also elevates the film above your average torture porn blood fest – in the vein of Saw et al – but also opens up questions over purpose. In the face of such overreaching hopelessness and cruelty, why the need to flesh out the story with such seemingly inconsequential yet utterly horrible little specifics?
The Oedipal flashbacks and attempts to explain Bob’s obsession with raping and slashing up young women feel like afterthoughts, an explanatory justification for the excessive screaming, bloodied walls and half naked women that populate the earlier parts of the film. A final twist also feels convoluted; an attempt to lend weight to what is essentially a bleak, grisly succession of pretty girls in their pants being chopped to bits.
Chained does not require a strong stomach; the gore is tolerable, spaced out even, at some points, dull and boring. But nor does it require a strong mind; there is nothing new on display here. The Stockholm syndrome, the serial killings, the sparse, sickly yellow interiors and steel-lined basements – all these clichéd elements of the contemporary horror flick combine to create something that neither shocks nor reveals anything about the human condition. Neither incisive nor repulsive, the movie merely tells us that evil exists, gives a few cursory nods towards why that might be, and leaves it at that. Overall, Chained makes for an underwhelming if momentarily upsetting viewing experience.
Watch the trailer for Chained here: