Following on from the deeply baffling, divisive psycho-thriller Surveillance (2008), a film that somewhat managed to eradicate the memory of her previous directorial failures, Jennifer Lynch (daughter of esteemed cinematic surrealist David) returns to her thematic bread and butter with Chained (2012) – but only to various degrees of success. Boosted by a strong premise and narrative that clearly looks to examine the nature versus nurture complex, the film is a traumatic and mostly controversial look at the sculpting of an evil that is both reprehensible and hereditary, practised as it is by a man haunted by his past and the sins of a malevolent father.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Bob, a serial killing taxi driver who methodically abducts unsuspecting women, brings them to his secluded house and kills them, all under the unwarranted proviso that they bring it upon themselves. The film opens with Bob capturing and murdering Sarah (Julia Ormond) whilst making the uncharacteristic decision to keep her eight-year-old son Tim alive. From here onwards Bob forces his detainee into a manipulated state of slavery, meting out harsh punishments for (immediately thwarted) escape attempts whilst alluding to the slim prospect of freedom as a way of coaxing labour from his young prisoner.
The film then jumps forward ten years to a gaunt Tim (renamed as Rabbit, played by the skeletal Eamon Farren) shackled physically and now deeply metaphorically to Bob, their forced bond now cemented as he has become stitched into the fabric of his captor’s psychopathic routine of offing, burying and documenting each of his victims. However, as Bob’s violent past continues to cast an oppressive shadow, how long will the gaping cracks in his once evasive idyll continue to pass unnoticed? Although it’s entirely reductive to compare Lynch’s films to the cinema of her far more successful (and celebrated) father, what is interesting is how the two filmmakers deal with cinematic representations of the uncanny.
Whereas David Lynch has made a handful of films essentially formulated around the idea that darkness lurks in the brightest of utopias, and the American dream struggles to silence its seething underbelly, Jennifer is seen to take this argument and realise it by brushing away any hints at enigma or subtle allusion. This is where Chained ultimately trips up; in her bid to create something of a scathing point that the world as we know it is a secretive and inherently malicious place, Lynch falls prey to her knack for over exaggeration. Unlike Markus Schleinzer’s calm but sinister Michael (2011) – with which this shares similar themes – Lynch unfortunately shuns ambiguity in favour of overt delineation, untidily illustrating Bob’s tortured soul and malevolent past through superfluous flashbacks and, by extension, his nauseating desire to imprint upon his jittery protégé.
Although the constantly prescient topic of child exposure to adult behaviour and the various horrors that come with it is prevalent throughout Chained, and indeed lends it a very well handled air of chilly menace, Lynch’s detached approach peaks too early and allows the comfortable demands of the thriller genre to undermine its steady incline, building to a string of final act character and plot twists that feel cheap and ultimately useless.