Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.
Jennifer Lynch’s Chained, a macabre and vicious film to its core, suggests that the director’s father, David, needed to hug her more. Where the patriarch prides himself on visceral weirdness as seen in works like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, his daughter takes a grimly plausible situation and looks at how monsters are made. She pairs two different individuals together, and forces us to observe their behaviors while we grit our teeth and hope for the best, despite one disturbing scene after another.
Unassuming with its $700,000 budget, yet compelling from the opening minutes, Chained begins with a nine-year-old boy (Evan Bird) and his mother, Sarah (Julia Ormond), going to a local theater. They take a cab home, but don’t realize until it’s too late that their driver is a serial killer named Bob (an outstanding Vincent D’Onofrio). Bob takes them back to his home in the remote countryside, murders Sarah, and turns the boy, whom he names “Rabbit,” into his slave. Rabbit is ordered to clean up the blood of the women Bob brings home, rapes, and kills. He’s permitted to eat merely the scraps of food Bob doesn’t want. Cameras watch Rabbit’s every move. When he tries to escape through the attic window one day, Bob throws rocks at him, knocks him unconscious, and shackles him by the leg so he cannot escape.
Fast-forward nine years. Rabbit (now played by Eamon Farren) is an emotionally stunted 18-year-old, still living in captivity, still performing the daily clean-up duties for his kidnapper. Bob remains abusive towards the boy, but now realizes that being an adult means taking an interest in girls. His next move to allow Rabbit more freedom, as he plans to take him for a ride in his cabbie to stake out potential new victims.
Much of the film takes place inside Bob’s humble dwelling; a sparsely furnished, single-family home with boarded windows and doors that always remain locked. Bob buries his victims underneath his home, and one has to assume that over the 10+ years he’s been doing this, he has more bodies than a graveyard. One of Rabbit’s many duties is reading the newspaper every day, and cutting out articles that reference any of the victims Bob has killed to use in an ever-growing scrapbook.
In one of Chained‘s many sinister yet incredibly unique scenes, Bob and Rabbit play “cards,” although they’re not playing poker or some variation. They’re using the driver’s licenses of the victims. Rabbit goes first. He reads the woman’s name on the license. Bob rattles off her address, height, and weight straight from memory. “She lied like a rug about her weight,” he adds.
A gruesome twofer like this wouldn’t be nearly as effective without stellar performances. Vincent D’Onofrio — one of the best “that guy” actors around — is exceptional as a cab driving serial killer. He’s clearly intellectual stunted, speaking in a staccato manner, almost sounding intoxicated. He is downright evil, and the way he almost deliberately enunciates every word raises the hairs on your neck. D’Onofrio has had a long list of memorable performances, from Full Metal Jacket to Men in Black. His career highlight reel will probably omit Chained for its underground and unsavory nature, but if editing that video were up to me, the film and his performance would be the one showcased the most.
Eamon Farren, who would later go on to star in David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks, holds his own as a boy struggling to retain the morals he absorbed from his mother and father despite spending more than half his life in captivity. Chained looks at how society breeds monsters through child abuse. Some of the film’s most intense and outright disturbing scenes are those that look at Bob’s own abusive childhood (seen through his choppy nightmares). They’re graphic and sickening. As hellish and unloving as Rabbit’s adolescent life has been, it’s the love and affection he received as a boy that keeps him from becoming a carbon copy of Bob.
Lynch directs this film with all the ominousness the story demands. She’s conservative with her reveals, and crafty with the buildup, so much so that sometimes you’re not even aware she’s building towards something (a climactic scene involving Bob’s cab, for one). Lynch works with cinematographer Shane Daly to make Bob’s home a dark and dismal place; lighting shows us all we need to see, never too little yet never too much. When the remote land on which Bob’s home sits is shown early into the film, her camerawork is effective in showing just how helpless Rabbit really is.
Chained will be a horror movie I foresee myself recommending to people for years to come, although I might hesitate to watch it again. Even for hardened fans of the genre, this is one that is liable to linger in the mind. Furthermore, this is the first time I can recall where a film “keeps going,” so to speak, despite the credits rolling. The unseen actions yet familiar sounds played over the end titles make you ponder who and what Rabbit will eventually become. That being said, we don’t need a sequel. Our nightmares will take the lead from here.
Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Gina Philips, Conor Leslie, Evan Bird, Jake Weber, and Julia Ormond. Directed by: Jennifer Lynch.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!