Chained, the new thriller by Jennifer Lynch, is essentially about a boy who becomes a man in quite an unorthodox way. Abducted at age nine with his mother, whom is then killed by their kidnapper, the boy is forced to care for and clean up after his captor, a grizzled serial killer. Sheltered from the world, the boy grows up immersed in the unspeakable acts committed by his new father figure, learning about life through the twisted eyes of the killer.
At first, the newly named Rabbit (Eamon Farren) is as trepidatious as his name implies. He wished to escape, to return to his dad. But as the days, weeks, and months progress, escape is illusory. When he does attempt to leave, his captor Bob (Vincent D'Onofrio) chains him to his bed, leaving enough chain so that the growing lad can do his dirty work around the house (getting meals ready, cleaning up crime scenes; you know, normal stuff). Eventually, Bob decides to take a greater interest in the boy's future. Will the boy follow in Bob's footsteps, or will he earn his trust just long enough to get the heck out of Dodge?
The movie is a fascinating portrait of an ersatz father-son relationship. The viewer is told little of Bob's past (why does he bring so many women home to their demise?), and the story is not told strictly through Rabbit's point of view. Bob rapes and kills; Rabbit cooks and cleans. His mental growth is, at best, stunted; he's not dumb, but he is as sheltered as possible. His situation is bizarre, but it begins so early in his life that it's really all he knows. He knows of the outside world only what Bob permits him to know; one of his duties is to cut out newspaper articles relating to Bob's activities and paste them into a scrapbook. Seems kind of foolish if you're trying to elude capture, but Bob seems pretty secure in his remote farmhouse.
The movie itself is not a battle of wills, although Rabbit does show some periodic defiance. It seems mostly to be about brutal, unforgiving violence toward women. In brief, black-and-white flashbacks, we catch glimpses of Bob's childhood and the horrors he himself witnessed and participated in at an early age. In the present, he prowls the city in a cab, looking for victims, kidnaps them, brings them home, rapes and murders them. The boy's job is to open the door, have food ready, clean up messes, dispose of bodies. But Bob is not a stupid man. He believes he sees potential in Rabbit to work as an apprentice and possibly more. He commands the boy to learn about the human body, makes him study thick anatomy books. It's a methodical life that bears similarities in form - but not in function - to that of many working people.
The unorthodox relationship bears interesting consequences. Not only does Bob wish to see his young charge succeed in the art of raping and killing, he wants him to, well, feel the touch of a woman. I'm serious; this is important. The sheltered Rabbit isn't on board with the program, and it's a bone of contention - pun intended - between them for some time.
The first thing that struck me about this movie was how well acted it was. D'Onofrio is terrifying, and not in the movie-monster way; his character's evil seems real, all the more so because of his attention to detail, usually calm demeanor, logic, and intelligence. The character has depths that D'Onfrio plumbs to great success. Farren, as the skittish, unwilling helper, is his match: not a killer, perhaps, but by no means an innocent bystander, either.
The second thing is simply this - the movie's ending is pretty flat. All right, the following is not a spoiler: in the final act, Rabbit must decide whether he wants to be Bob Jr. or to get out for good. He's not fully grown, mentally or physically. So he makes his decision, with unexpected consequences. It was a good twist, well played by Farren and D'Onofrio. But then the movie continued, needlessly adding a second ending, giving us closure when we sure didn't need it. To be frank, the second so-called ending essentially opened up more questions for no good reason. Pointless doesn't begin to describe it. Picture this: you've achieved some resolution, as the viewer. You may not respect Rabbit's choice - or perhaps you do - but at least something's been completed. Then the movie suddenly, without any provocation, goes off into an entirely unasked-for direction that made no sense even after it played out.
To say more would truly ruin things, but to me the ending shifted the movie from "okay" status to "pretty bad" status; all of the competence of 90 minutes or so was trumped tenfold by those final scenes, as details were introduced that attempted to explain prior behavior of characters - but the explanation held little water, a leaky plot bucket.
On the plus side, at least Chained is a marked improvement over Lynch's last big-release film - Boxing Helena, in 1993! - with Sherilyn Fenn and Julian Sands. But that's truly damning with faint praise. Although the audience where I saw Chained seemed to really love it, I just saw it as wildly exploitative junk that couldn't even play by its own messy rules - despite compelling performances by its leads. It was almost as if Lynch was trying to sabotage her own screenplay. Chained is a horrendously directed, clueless bait-and-switch movie that dares you to identify with its leads, either one, despite giving no strong reason for you to do so.
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