Despite her somewhat unconventional directorial career, a new film from Jennifer Lynch is still a cause for some level of intrigue. This bubble of intrigue may be burst at a fairly early stage, as her new film, Chained, looks, feels, and smells - initially, at least - like one of those dire serial killer flicks which you may sometimes catch on the Horror Channel late at night, should you subject yourself to such material. It's a genre which I personally find especially depressing; largely, such examples prove to be misogynistic, unimaginative, and utterly without character.
And the first few minutes of viewing may further substantiate our surprising assertion that Lynch's film is exactly this sort of pointlessly cruel and nasty material - albeit rather well shot - as Vincent D'Onofrio's character drags a distressed and screaming girl into the filthy confines of his boarded-up home. I must confess to having experienced a dull sensation of weariness at this stage, bracing myself for the remainder of the film, and wondering what episodes of depressing misogyny would be inflicted upon my gaze over the remainder of the running time.
Since Lynch brought us the critically disastrous but undeniably creative Boxing Helena back in 1993, before taking a lengthy hiatus from filmmaking, I should perhaps have had more faith in the director's imagination and creativity, and in truth, I would have been astonished if Chained really was nothing more than a catalogue of pointless misogyny and meaningless unpleasantness. Yes, the unpleasantness in this film certainly does have meaning, and what opens as a darkly depressing abduction and murder yarn, evolves into a story which is compelling, disturbing, and truly absorbing.
The premise of the film is remarkably straightforward. D'Onofrio portrays a bleak and emotionally bereft serial killer who lives in a home which is so grimly disheveled that it is barely imaginable; indeed, the killer accentuates the sheer grimness of his home environment by living behind windows which are deprived of sunlight by the huge metal sheets hammered against the windows, and the heavy, multi-locked doors which imprison him within his own hell. Exploiting his convenient job as a taxi driver, he snatches female passengers before murdering them at his disgusting home, and then studies the media diligently to ensure that he is continuing to evade the hapless police.
The story departs from the conventional serial killer yarn as D'Onofrio's Bob finds himself in the possession of one of his victim's children - a young boy - and Bob casts a terrifying shadow over the child, telling him that the boy shall become his slave, and that he will call him 'Rabbit'. And so begins a great many years of servitude for the boy, toiling tirelessly under the harsh regime of the twisted killer, chained to the bed where he spends so much of his time.
Where Lynch leverages something much more cerebral out of the routine story is all in the subtlety; a subtlety which separates her film entirely from the aforementioned generic 'serial killer' flicks. As we watch the impossibly dysfunctional Bob, we are repulsed, we are angered, and we are sickened. Yet Lynch does show a modicum of sympathy for the cruel brute, and it's a testament to D'Onofrio's performance that he forces us to pause momentarily, as we consider the events which may have crafted Bob from an innocent child into his repulsive adult self. And we continually agonise over the plight of Rabbit, whilst also admiring his desperate struggle to pin down his sense of morality in a world where moral norms are entirely absent. Despite his tender age when Bob first acquires the child, Rabbit clings firmly to his sense of right and wrong, yet finds he has to cede to Bob to gain any glimmer of hope for the future, to gain any small chance of escape.
Bob and Rabbit's relationship is most intriguing where the elder man tries - through some deeply buried sense of duty - to behave as the father figure for Rabbit, and to pass down to him his demented vision of what 'must be', and it is during this phase that the film grips and absorbs us entirely. Bear with the claustrophobia, the intensity, and the depressing chronicles of misogynist violence, because the dynamics and the psychological underpinnings of these moments are darkly fascinating.
Lynch directs her assembled cast well, with D'Onofrio giving a stunning performance, and both Evan Bird and Eamon Farren playing the younger and elder Rabbit respectively with impressive depth. Lynch also presides over a confident visual presentation, not only in terms of the thoughtful filming, but also with respect to the murky set design and lighting, which brings Bob's hellish living quarters into uncomfortable relief. Perhaps the only criticism I can offer is that - maybe because of budgetary constraints - Lynch's film does occasionally flirt with the look and feel of a slightly superior TV movie, but such moments are few and far between, and this doesn't detract from what is a mainly impressive and intense experience.
Her career may have been unconventional, but what at first glance appears to be a conventional entry into Jennifer Lynch's back catalogue surprises us as the murky tale of a rotten serial killer becomes a tense and absorbing vision of two males struggling to maintain a foothold within differing moral frameworks. You may not be inclined to watch it, and you may not even enjoy it, but there's no escaping the fact that Chained will remain with you long after the credits have gone, and for that reason I recommend a viewing.
Anchor Bay unleash Lynch's film on Blu-ray encoded for region B audiences, with a suitably suggestive and bloodthirsty cover which effectively undermines the quality of Lynch's presentation, and sets our expectations at rock bottom. Despite the cover art suggesting a bloodbath torturefest, this film is surprisingly steady with the bloodletting, and the horror here is truly of the psychological variety.
The Anchor Bay crew have completed a decent transfer, presenting the film in the original aspect ratio (2.40:1) and with sharp levels of detail and accuracy thanks to the 1080p resolution. That said, the film still maintains something of the look that one would desire for such a film; something a bit grubby and grimy, with a level of grain which shows that the source material is being allowed to breathe. Yet this never translates into a poor quality image, and even in the darker and black scenes, the balance remains strong and substantial - though one might not wish it to be, with such grim subject matter. Lynch's film is laden with super-vibrant yellows, which sit atop the frequent swathes of brown shades inside the killer's appalling walls.
The disc menu is simple enough to navigate, but please note that this release is pretty bare, and doesn't include subtitles, which is a real shame.
Sound is provided in either 2.0 stereo, or 5.1 DTS-HD MA, depending upon your home set-up. The audio reproduction is excellent, and you'll particularly enjoy the benefit of a decent subwoofer, as the bass tones here are darkly resonant, providing a truly sinister undercurrent to lend this film the requisite atmosphere. Dialogue is clear throughout, and there are no complaints with the audio delivery.
There's only one extra here, unfortunately, which is Mary's Murder - Alternate Version. This extra shows the alternate scene depicting the death of one of the killer's victims, in slightly more graphic fashion. I understand this scene to have been re-shot to satisfy the desired certificate for an American audience - a practice which I find especially depressing.
It's a genuine shame that there are no more extras to report; a film as absorbing as this one merits much more by way of supplementary material.
It's light on extras, but with a high quality audio and visual presentation, Jennifer Lynch's darkly sinister film is still worth the investment.