Retro Review: CHAINED (2012){0}

Once in a while we hear a horrific story about a mentally deranged kidnapper who abducts someone, and simply keeps them. No ransom, no murder; just time spent as someone else’s plaything or reluctant companion. When they pop up in the newspapers, these tragic stories hit home in a dark, personal way. We ponder (hopefully for not very long) how we might deal with such a terrible ordeal, and it’s that sort of communal fear that always seems to seep into horror cinema. A recent (and rather solid) indie called Bereavement tackled this tale, and now comes Chained, the latest in dark genre fare from Jennifer Lynch, whom most FEARnet readers may remember from films like the absurd Boxing Helena, the amusing Surveillance, or the bizarre Bollywood import known as Hisss.

The dark and challenging (and occasionally dopey) Chained is Ms. Lynch’s most “complete” horror film to date, and while it does spin its wheels for a while, the loyal genre viewers will be “rewarded” with a stark, unpredictable, and frequently ugly rumination on themes like free will and morality. Chained is not a fun-time horror flick, and sometimes Lynch and leading man Vincent D’Onofrio go a little overboard from time to time, but despite some early misgivings, I found myself rather fascinated by this two-character horror tale.

Basically, a brutal yet clever psychopath (D’Onofrio) has kidnapped a young boy, but instead of demanding ransom or disposing of the victim, he keeps the kid (chained to the wall) as a servant. Time goes on, and as the kid grows into a willful teenager, the psycho continues to bring shrieking women home for killing. Frequent conversations between villain and his unwilling accomplice are, to the credit of Lynch and co-writer Damian O’Donnell, compelling enough, but they seem to get a bit (grossly) melodramatic as we start to learn the “reasons” for the psycho’s behavior.

When Ms. Lynch sticks to the morality play — does long exposure to evil make you evil? — Chained works, and although he could probably play an effective lunatic in his sleep, Mr. D’Onofrio does a fine job of articulating his character’s own logic, sick and twisted as it may be. Where Chained stumbles is in the tonal shifts. The flashback scenes and a large chunk of Act III seem a little more “traditional” than the more subversive and disturbing ideas found earlier in the film, but on the whole Chained deserves credit for trying to mine some relatively intelligent chills out of something different, topical, and primally disturbing.