DIRECTOR Jennifer Lynch WRITER Damian O’Donnell; Jennifer Lynch STARS Vincent D’Onofrio; Eamon Farren; Evan Bird CINEMA 1 February
Jennifer Lynch’s Chained contains an interesting premise: a serial killer raises the young son of one of his victims as his own, naming him Rabbit, and attempting to ingratiate the boy into the murderer’s way of life.
This is Lynch’s third directorial feature since 1993’s excessively criticised Boxing Helena, and Chained (or “Rabbit” as Lynch would have preferred) feels like an attempt at making art — but sometimes trying too hard.
When the film achieves nuance it hints at its unrealised potential. For example, in the first act, bright panoramic shots are used with big horizons and open skies; as the film progresses these tighten and become moody and filled with clouds until eventually, as Rabbit becomes mired in his captivity, the scenes are almost entirely internal and sepia-toned or set after dark. Conversely, the attempts at non-visual metaphor are clumsy and patronising. A TV broadcast mentions an upcoming debate on vivisection — just in case the subject matter of captivity, loss of control and the value of life are not sufficiently apparent.
Some of the character development is interesting and well executed, yet it is hampered by various ham-fisted clichés. The film competently explores the structure of an abusive relationship and how the aggressor utilises a foundation of fear, control and isolation, interspersed with moments of benevolence, to create submissiveness and dependency. Yet it insists on the well-worn, and frankly boring, cliché of a middle-aged male serial killer who was abused by his father and now refers to his (exclusively attractive female) victims as ‘whores’. The problem is further compounded by a plot structure which occasionally requires the audience to suspend disbelief too far. The young boy almost instantly recovering from the murder of his mother was a minor transgression, but a textbook knowledge of anatomy being sufficient to safely stab someone in the gut was a stretch too far.
Thematically, the film does use a more delicate touch. Parallels, drawn from setting and character interaction, with the subservient role of the individual within a state or corporate system, are there, but not forcibly so. Rabbit is indoctrinated by an authoritarian into a way of life not of his choosing and given menial, repetitive tasks to do until he has lost most of his own control and free will. Eventually he is promised a destiny, by way of a reward, which he does not desire. Lynch manages to achieve this without spoon-feeding her audience and, some might say, without resorting to the more visceral techniques of A Serbian Film, to do it.
If Chained had been able to sustain its highest levels of performance it would have been a very good film, rather than the above-average one it is. Jennifer Lynch is a competent filmmaker and Chained suggests that further refinements to her art could well produce a notable picture.