Written by Jennifer Lynch, based on a screenplay by Damian O’Donnell
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Directed by Jennifer Lynch
“I shall call you… Rabbit,” is the most chilling line of any film this year. Spoken slowly but deliberately with a slight lisp and a faint Germanic accent by Vincent D’Onofrio, the voice alone places Bob somewhere between Hans Beckert and Jeffrey Dahlmer. D’Onofrio’s performance as Bob is a virtuoso effort by one of our great (albeit under-utilized) actors, delicately inhabiting a brute, like a ballerina trapped in a gorilla’s body.
“When I said I cast Vincent D’Onofrio, I was told that he was too TV… What The Fuck?! Have you not seen Full Metal Jacket?”
Bob is a taxi driver whose specially modified cab makes it easier for him to kidnap women, drive them back to his isolated rural home, rape them and kill them. One day, he picks up Sarah Fittler (Julia Ormond) and her ten year old son Tim (Evan Bird) at the movies where they have just seen a horror film. After killing Sarah, Bob changes Tim’s name to Rabbit, telling him, “I didn’t choose you, but I will make the most of it.”
“I wanted to talk about abuse. I wanted to start a dialogue. The main thing is we have to fucking stop hurting the kids!”
Rabbit becomes Bob’s servant, “You will have one job. You do what I say. You clean up my house,” which begins with cleaning up the remains of his mother. In time, teenage Rabbit (Eamon Farren) becomes Bob’s reluctant student and it becomes clear that Bob intends for Rabbit to become his son and heir.
“I wanted to write an original horror story… I decided not to do something supernatural, which left serial killers. I had seen films where someone is chased by the killer, Halloween, and I had seen films where the police chase the killer, Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, but I had never seen a film where an ordinary person is parachuted into a serial killer’s life and can’t get away.”
Part of the genius of Chained is the way that Jennifer Lynch uses the rhythms of a home and a life and a father-son relationship to lull us into a form of Stockholm Syndrome along with Rabbit, only to twist the knife and remind us that Bob is a monster. This also allows her to give D’Onofrio screen time to truly develop Bob, to give him depth and dimension.
“He’s tough to cut. You just want to look at him forever.”
-Chris Peterson (editor)
It would be easy to categorize Chained as a nature vs. nurture story, but the film ends up being much more complicated than that. Lynch reveals a story of generational abuse in tiny drips, each splash causing us to reevaluate Bob’s life, but Lynch (and D’Onofrio) never let Bob off the hook for his actions. His past is a reason, not an excuse.
“Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory; children endow their parents with a vicarious immortality.”
Bob sees Rabbit sometimes as a son, but mostly as a replacement. A replacement for the kid brother that Bob tried to protect from his father’s wrathful abuse and ultimately a replacement for Bob himself.
The greatest (and stupidest) tribute this film has received is from the MPAA who slapped the film with an NC-17 rating, for scenes of violence less gory, but more emotionally unsettling, than you will see from any horror fantasy franchise like Saw, Halloween or Friday the 13th.
“It would be easy to hate them. I wanted to hate them, but everyone in the MPAA were really nice people. When we went for our appeal, we played the film and then we got to speak and the lady who gave us the NC-17 rating got to speak. We pointed to the Saw films as examples of films that got an R rating with scenes much gorier than our film. They told us that our film felt too real.”
Giving Chained an NC-17 rating is another bone-headed decision in a year when the MPAA seems determined to Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures itself into irrelevance. I don’t mean to suggest that Chained should be viewed in the same light as Bully, but there are worse films to watch with your 14 year old. And watching Chained would lead to a discussion about evil – real world evil – that would never happen from watching the cartoon carnage inflicted by Michael, Jason, Freddy or Jigsaw.
“If had made the movie more sexualized or funnier, I would have got away with the violence. I could have made the violence hyper-sexual. I have done that before, but it didn’t seem appropriate here. I could have made the movie funny, but I don’t think that abuse is fucking funny.”
Maybe the best part of the film is the sound design from D’Onofrio’s voice to the pounding, percussive score that traps you in the nightmare. It is almost possible to believe that you could follow the film’s plot just by listening with your eyes closed and, in fact, in certain parts of the film that is exactly what you can must do.
“And you, you that call yourselves collectors. Until now, you have all sustained fantasies in which you are the maltreated heroes of your own stories. Comforting daydreams in which, ultimately, you are shown to be in the right. No more. For all of you that dream is over. I have taken it away.”
-Dream from Sandman#14 ‘Collectors‘ written by Neil Gaiman
The problem inherent in most serial killer literature, whether on the page or on the screen, is that we tend to make our monsters into heroes, which is why Hannibal Lecter is getting his own TV series instead of Clarice Starling or Will Graham.
Jennifer Lynch and Vincent D’Onofrio dive deep into the abuse that creates monstrosities and emerge with the portrait of a complicated human monster, who is not once allowed to be the hero. The MPAA may believe that Chained is too real to be seen, but that is exactly why you should see it.