Chained (review)

Chained green light Eamon Farren

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Are serial killers people too? Of course they are — severely damaged people, yes, but human beings nevertheless. Yet cinema’s obsession with serial killers rarely transcends casting them as monsters for heroes to defeat. They are the looming specters of the near-mythic Hannibal Lecter and the cheap, interchangeable bogeymen of countless slasher flicks. Bob, the murderous sexual predator of Jennifer Lynch’s unnerving Chained, is something we’ve not seen before, and he is an uncomfortable challenge to us, and to all similar movies that have come before.

Is writer-director Lynch daring us to sympathize with Bob? Not that we are meant to forgive him his horrendous crimes, not at all… but it’s undeniable that we are intended to gain a commiserative appreciation of what turns a horrifically abused boy into a man who loathes women — and his own sexuality — so much that his only method of interacting with them is through violence. There is nothing exploitive or lascivious in Lynch’s depiction’s of Bob’s rapes and murders, which occur mostly offscreen, unlike in some other films of the genre, in which the viewer is invited to share in the killer’s perverse enjoyment of the terror of women. Far blunter and far more emotionally provocative is the sad horror with which she shows us what Bob suffered as a child, and adult Bob today revealing how it haunts and taunts him still. It’s all made even more disturbing and disorienting because Vincent D’Onofrio (Sinister, Brooklyn’s Finest) as Bob is ugly and dismaying, lurching through the film like a fairy-tale troll come to life, and yet every once in a while letting us peek at his wounds and scars… often via his “relationship” with “Rabbit,” his “protégé,” whom Bob “acquired” when he kidnapped the kid’s mother years earlier, and now treats, with equal measures of disdain and demented affection, as an adopted son.

If there is a “hero” here, it’s Rabbit (Evan Bird as a nine-year-old, Eamon Farren as a teen), who has no choice but to be Bob’s slave, cooking for him and cleaning up after his murders, yet who resists becoming active accomplices in them, exerting his own sense of what’s right and what’s proper even in the face of his own years-long abuse and neglect. And yet… will Rabbit ever be able to truly break the psychological chains Bob has shackled him to even if he can break the actual chains with which Bob keeps him prisoner? Or will he be trapped by the same cycles of violence and emotional oppression that chained Bob? Are these chains the monster, rather than the man, and can that monster ever be vanquished?

Not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit, and probably not even for fans of more traditional horror films — which are very traditional indeed — this is a grenade lobbed into a genre that desperately needs its bones rattled.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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