★★ / ★★★★
After going to the movies, Tim (Evan Bird) and his mother (Julia Ormond) decide to take a cab home. Everything seems to be fine until the mother, in a fit of fear and rage, fails to get a response from the cabbie after he misses their exit. With the doors locked, the mother and her nine-year-old son are unable to escape. Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) drives them to his home, located in a deserted area, and kills the hysterical mother.
Bob tells Tim that his mom is never coming back, that he will spend the rest of his life cleaning after his master, serving him breakfast every morning, eating only what is left on the plate, collecting newspaper clips of missing women, and putting them on a scrapbook. Above all else, Tim’s new name is Rabbit.
While “Chained,” written by Damian O’Donnell, spends the majority of its time showing Bob and Tim, initially as a kid and eventually as a teenager (Eamon Farren), interact, it is interesting that there is a constant air of detachment, like looking thorough a glass wall, between the audience and its subjects. It made me question as to whether it is the appropriate approach considering that it wishes to explore the relationship in two ways: as master and slave as well as—can you believe it?—father and son.
Delving into the former is quite effective. The images of Tim scrubbing blood off a dingy floor in a poorly-lit room, looking very hungry as Bob engulfs his meal like a vacuum, and being terrified each time Bob kidnaps yet another woman to rape and kill, force us to be more protective of him. We want him to escape and fight back. At some point, I caught myself wishing for the boy to try to maim or murder his captor just so he can go on to live his life.
On the other hand, drilling into the father-son dynamic feels forced. Credit to D’Onofrio for being unafraid to take risks when it comes to acting but there are a handful of scenes when it is painfully apparent that he wants his character to appear more menacing. This is done through unnecessarily high decibels of screaming and yelling. A quieter route might have been more fitting given Bob’s history which, by the way, is provided to us through heavily edited and disorienting flashbacks.
Bob knows very well how it is like to be abused and be treated like an animal. One might think that the screenplay would have given Bob a bit of a struggle on how to be more patient and sensitive. A monster that roars and rages is less interesting than a monster that sits quietly in a corner, smiling and unblinking, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. As a result, the fathering aspect of the film works only on a superficial level.
Furthermore, it is obvious that Bob is a man who does not know how to relate to women given how he talks about and treats them. Plenty of scenes are dedicated to him dragging women around like cattle about to be slaughtered. If we are forced to spend the majority of the film’s running time with this type of man, there ought to have been more complexity to him. Does he want to learn how to relate to women? Did he think that there is something sick about his habits? If so, has he attempted to change or reinvent himself?
Punching women in the face, pulling them across the floor, trapping them in a corner, and seeing them covered in blood is not only too much, it becomes predictable. Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, “Chained” is more like a standard horrorshow than a chamber piece about what it is like to be in the skin and mindset of a serial killer.