Jennifer Lynchs previous films have met with very mixed, if downright negative, critical reception. Contrarily, I have consistently liked what she has done. Whatever the case, everything she has done so far has been eclipsed by Chained that comes together in ways that quietly stun and amaze you. It feels like the one work she has made to date where everything else she has been working up to blossoms as something stunning.
One of the things that impresses the most about Chained is Jennifer Lynchs cool understatement and the way she successfully maintains the sense of detached restraint throughout the entire film. The camera seems to remain at a distance watching and never dramatising, just observing what happens without comment. This is never more than evident in the films opening we see young Evan Bird alone in what seems like a perfectly ordinary house before Vincent DOnofrio abruptly enters the door dragging a screaming woman after him. The abruptness of the contrast between the calm normality of the scene and the images of the screaming woman is startling.
Jennifer Lynch rarely goes for shock effect or big dramatics, although there are some excellent set-pieces. Like the scene where Vincent DOnofrio brings the drunken Amy Matysio home and asks her to lift her arms and then with an astonishing casualness slits her throat and, moreover, stands over her dying body and gives a disinterested anatomy lesson to Eamon Farren: Carotid artery. There is also the scene where DOnofrio brings Conor Leslie back so that Eamon Farren can have a taste of a woman and the two are locked together in the room, a scene that swings in tone between her fear and opening up to have sympathy for him where you genuinely do not know what way the scene is going to go at any second.
What one kept being reminded of throughout was the Austrian Michael (2011), a similar film about the relationship between an abductor (in this case, a paedophile) and his young male prisoner and the way the story stays focused on the minutiae of life between captor and captive. Both films take an approach that eschews big dramatics for a cool and detached observation of a disturbing situation. Within this, Jennifer Lynch and Vincent DOnofrio get the pathology and the detail of the world the two characters live in down to a degree that is stunning. The only aspect that fails to work is the ending, which abandons the cool slice of life observation for a psycho-thriller plot twist that reveals aspects of what has happened have been set up, which is something that fails to work and jars badly with the tone of the rest of the film.
Vincent DOnofrio gives one of his finest performances in some time, all through a voice that has a weirdly alien detachment to it. There is a chilling coldness to the way he gives Evan Bird a newspaper and tells him On page twelve, theres a nice piece about you and your mother going missing. Put it in the scrapbook or gives him a long list of instructions for life in the house with him. The ranges of expression that Jennifer Lynch puts DOnofrio through are astonishing from a scene where Evan Bird makes an escape through the rooftop turret and DOnofrio, rather than enacting any of his threats to punish, stands outside throwing stones at Bird and taunting the uselessness of trying to escape because he will always outthink him, to a scene with the two watching tv, Bird sitting between DOnofrios legs and the unexpected tenderness as DOnofrio taps him on the shoulder and gives him a chocolate bar. DOnofrio does the lions share of the acting but you cannot go without mentioning the performance of the teenage Rabbit given by Eamon Farren. Farren is tall for his age and has bony angular features that seem to echo a haunted and lost feeling with every pore of his being.
Nominee for Best Director (Jennifer Lynch), Nominee for Best Actor (Vincent DOnofrio) at this sites Best of 2012 Awards).