Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird
You may like this if you liked: Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011), The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986)
After a trip to the cinema young Tim (Bird) and his mother (Julia Ormond) catch a taxi home as it is getting late and quite a distance to walk. Unfortunately the taxi driver is Bob (D’Onofrio) a serial killer who uses his taxi to pick up unsuspecting women and brutally kill them. Bob kills Tim’s mother but allows Tim to survive, however referring to Tim as ‘Rabbit’ and to live as his slave and with a chain attached to his foot. His jobs include cooking, gathering information from local papers on Bob’s victims and cleaning up the blood of the victims after Bob has buried them in his basement. As Rabbit turns 18, and after an experience with a father bullying his son in his taxi, Bob decides it is time to educate Rabbit and he gives him countless books about how the human body works. It appears to be Bob’s intention to make Rabbit his protégé and become more of a father to him, but will Rabbit turn out that way?
As horrific as surreal killers are, there has always been an obsession as to how their mind works and an attempt to understand their motivations for committing the acts that they do. After all despite the obvious differences in mindset, they are just human beings in the end. Film is no exception and there have been many examples of fascinating depictions of serial killers on screen. Though there are comparisons between the excellent (but very unsettling) Michael there is one key difference; Bob is not a paedophile and never sexually assaults Rabbit and that all his victims are women.
The latest from Jennifer Lynch (daughter of Dave) is made in a respectful and restrained tone that thankfully avoids venturing on to torture porn. There is more a focus on a subtle character driven narrative with all the horrific brutality taking place off screen. This is the key in producing what I thought was a very interesting and compelling character study. Through the character of Rabbit and his relationship with Bob, the narrative provides a slightly different approach to understanding the mindset of a serial killer. Though the motivations behind his actions are never spelt out there are plenty of subtle hints and his character is genuinely interesting. He is unattractive, overweight and owns a house in the middle of nowhere and is expertly depicted by a great unsettling slobbering performance from D’Onofrio.
When the narrative moves to Rabbit reaching adulthood new interesting themes arrive. Bob seems to have obvious good intentions and compassion towards Rabbit. Though there is no excusing the crimes he commits we are shown that he is not a complete monster adding so much more depth to his character. What develops now within the narrative are themes such as nature vs. nurture as Rabbit has not received any education since being abducted at the age of nine. Eamon Ferran gives an excellent performance of an 18 year old with the mental age of a nine year old. As Rabbit has had no education or family for nine years what then develops as Bob attempts to educate him and attempt to be a father figure is extremely compelling and expertly acted, written and directed. I personally found myself really caring about what happens to Rabbit and was compelled to find out whether he would turn into Bob junior or not.
Though the subject matter of course is a dark one and so this is not a film that will appeal to everyone there are some interesting and thought provoking ideas within the narrative. The restrained and subtle approach to direction, dialogue and acting are genuinely unsettling but provide compelling characters.
However the last twenty minutes and the downright outrageous twist completely undermine all the good work the rest of the film has done. This is not a twist I saw coming, but that is mainly because I expected better from Lynch junior. This is a twist more fitting of a Hollywood torture porn film and is surprising and shocking but only in a disappointing and frustrating way. It is completely out of tone with the rest of the film and quite literally undermines everything previously seen.
Overall Chained is a well constructed and superbly acted character study that poses thought provoking ideas, questions and themes. The downright stupid twist does undermine a lot of the good work and will annoy, but overall Chained is in my view still worth a watch. If you can stomach the rather dark nature of the material you are rewarded with a character in Rabbit that is genuinely compelling.