Jennifer Lynch’s “Chained” is a repugnant exercise in physical and psychological sadism that, like her “Boxing Helena” 20 years ago, raises the question of whether a movie directed by a woman can be as mindlessly misogynist as any man’s. Well crafted within its extreme limits, it boasts no character insight, social commentary or discernible overall point to counter charges that this is just a redundant wallow in arted-up, torture-porn cruelty. There being a niche aud for such exercises, “Chained” will doubtless find defenders and modest profits down the road. It’s bypassing theatrical for home-format release in the U.S.
Despite attendant controversy and a high-profile lawsuit, “Boxing Helena’s” grotesque romance between a stalker and the shrewish love object he kidnaps (then carefully, surgically dismembers) fizzled because it simply was a bad movie. At least it had a novel premise, however indebted to Nipponese cult classic “Blind Beast.”
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By contrast, “Chained” offers something depressingly familiar, boiled down to its essence: Serial killer abducts, beats, rapes and murders numerous women, the sole fillip being that he also keeps a boy captive as servant and protege. The “purity” of this nasty presentation is meant to render it all the more shocking and real, unencumbered by such distractions as character detail or plot complications. But instead, it shortchanges the humanity of the situation, reducing the pic to a repetitive portrait of (primarily) male-on-female violence where victims and perps are all one-dimensional. One suspects Lynch thinks she’s making a statement by paring things down to the ugly essentials, yet “Chained” can’t escape accusations of pandering to the lowest of common denominators.
After some de rigueur warm-up mayhem, the pic introduces a loving family about to be ripped apart. Cautioned by her dad (Jake Weber) to take a cab rather than public transit home after a multiplex matinee, Sarah (Julia Ormond) and 9-year-old son Tim (Evan Bird) grow alarmed when the driver, Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio), misses their exit, then takes them to the middle of nowhere. By the time Tim is dragged into Bob’s isolated ranch, Sarah is already dead. The kid is told he wasn’t part of the plan, but since he’s here, he’ll cook, clean and otherwise serve his captor, with harsh punishment for escape attempts or other infractions.
Ten unpleasant, monotonous, shackled years pass, with “Rabbit” (as Bob calls him) now played by Eamon Farren. As he’s coming of age, the youth is assigned anatomy-textbook study in preparation for his first “taste of a woman,” which in Bob’s logic is far worse than it sounds. But the boy resists doing violent harm.
That conflict leads to a climactic upheaval, and the possibility that “Chained” might not be wholly cynical after all. But Lynch’s screenplay (oddly credited as based on another, unproduced one by Damien O’Donnell) then makes a heinous mistake, springing a twist ending that comes out of nowhere, feels entirely gratuitous, and introduces myriad new credibility gaps in a story that’s already got plenty.
Eye-blink flashbacks to the villain’s abused childhood rep the pic’s sole attempts to explain Bob’s actions. Unsurprisingly, then, D’Onofrio delivers a one-note ogre whose affected speech is one part special ed, one part John Malkovich. He’s working seriously here, as is the androgynous, rail-thin, deer-in-the-headlights Farren. But they aren’t given a context sufficiently fleshed-out to reward that effort; neither are the actresses asked to do more than whimper, plead and bleed.
The effect is, perhaps deliberately, more dreary than frightening. That said, tech contributions are solid; Sara McCudden’s production design and Shane Daly’s Red lensing mine almost too much aesthetic value from dirty, yellowed interiors, and Climax Golden Twins’ score is ambient-creepy.