When getting primed for this year’s 31 Days of Horror, thematically Jeffery X Martin and I thought the SAW films and their brethren made a lot of sense, seeing as how the tenth film in that surprisingly venerable franchise was coming for this Halloween season. We thought rewatching that series, alongside some of the more gruesome horror films out there could be fun.
Funny thing, though. As we mulled this concept, the first film that popped into my head that I wanted to write about is nowhere near as gory as anything in the torture porn milieu SAW spearheaded. It wouldn’t even fall into that categorization. And yet, Jennifer Lynch’s 2012 film Chained, about serial killer Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) who captures and chains up a boy (Evan Bird as child Rabbit/Eamon Farren as teen Rabbit) has long remained in my movie psyche as a thriller focused on psychological torture. Sure, it’s not the same as that damn bear trap, but what goes on throughout Chained is equally as disturbing, and definitely caused a visceral reaction for me when I first watched it more than a decade ago.
Bob is a killer of women, and as the film begins, we see him, in his job as a cab driver, pick up Sarah (Julia Ormond) and her son Tim and take them back to his home, far removed from any neighbours. Offscreen, Bob brutally kills Sarah, and then tells Tim, who he renames Rabbit, of the duties he will fulfil under Bob, which include cleaning up the rooms where Bob kills his victims. Years pass and Rabbit grows up on Bob’s watchful eyes and tutelage. It’s clear that Bob had developed genuine affection for Rabbit, but how much of Bob has become part of Rabbit?
Filmed in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Chained is a beautifully bleak film, with the flatlands of the Canadian Prairies lending it a desolate feel. The subject matter is dark, with Vincent D’Onofrio delivering a spectacular performance. His Bob, make no mistake, is a monster, but in the quiet moments between Bob and Rabbit, it’s disturbingly hard not to have feelings of empathy for him. But they don’t last.
With thoughts of Chained on my mind, I decided to reach out via email to Jennifer Lynch, who I first met nearly a decade ago, and ask her for her thoughts and memories about making the film. There will be some spoilers, so be warned.
Andy Burns: Tell me how you came to write and direct Chained.
Jennifer Lynch: There was an existing script about a serial killer who diced people up, a taxi driver…he takes a boy into his home and keeps him. Chained. I took that framework and it became what it is now. I had written it and titled it, RABBIT. (The distribution company later told me they couldn’t sell a horror film called Rabbit.) It took the name of the previous script, and is the film you see today. I believe that Damien (the original screenwriter for “chained”) appreciated what was inspired by his story.
Andy Burns: The casting for the film is top drawer. How did Vincent D’Onofrio and Eamon Farren wind up as your leads?
Jennifer Lynch: I have been a D’Onofrio fan since Full Metal Jacket and I had crushed on him in SVU for ages. Because the role required someone who could be hated and yet understood … he was a clear and solid choice. Would it happen?
We got it to him and the next day he called me. “Hey Jennifer, this is Vincent. Let’s make a movie”.
It was a great moment.
Eamon was a discovery made via our casting director. We had met with many actors and just hadn’t found the right one. She told me this kid was ‘amazing’. I saw his photo. We spoke on Skype. I was looking at Rabbit. I knew it. Eamon has such a beautiful intelligence and innocence about him… and it perfectly covers his darker bits until he wants you to see them. He is a chiseled cherub with incredible talent. Again, he was Rabbit.
Another amazing Skype was with Eamon and Conor Leslie. Seeing the two of them side by side on my laptop… it was a no brainer.
Andy Burns: The majority of the film is about the relationship between Bob and Rabbit. Did Vincent and Eamon spend any time together prior to filming? They have an amazing chemistry.
Jennifer Lynch: I don’t think Eamon and Vincent spent any time together previous to the shoot. If memory serves, they both felt that jumping in without meeting was best. Rabbit doesn’t know the man who takes him. Eamon wanted to bring that to his performance. Both of them wanted to meet as their characters did. It was incredible to watch the two of them together. They…danced. Played. Supported each other. Inspired each other. It was great.
Andy Burns: I’m very curious about the vibe you want on set for a film like Chained. This is dark material with dark performances. When making a film like this, do you try to keep it light between takes? Is it a more muted feel?
Jennifer Lynch: Set, for me, is the happiest place on earth. I believe it should be respectful of the process and those involved, but based in joy. The work. The play. The real process. We were telling a terrible story. We needed to simulate and say terrible things and situations, so with great respect we did the work, and had moments of incredible laughter. One or two born of nervousness at the moment we were capturing, sure, but most born of the need to remind ourselves that we were ‘playing.’
It is supposed to be hard work and it is. It is also supposed to be fun. I try to make sure of that. I feel we properly balanced the dark with the light as far as on set energy. It’s make-believe and no one needs to actually be suffering. Both Vincent and Eamon are such kind men, I believe the whole crew was able to really enjoy the experience while telling a dark tale.
Andy Burns: Correct me if I’m wrong – I read that Chained was a 15 day shoot, which is extremely short. What were the pros and cons to working under such a tight deadline?
Jennifer Lynch: Pros – I get to make a movie. I get 15 days. (Doing this successfully would later get me hired for television work because I could prove I shot fast but well.) I had written limited locations. It was mostly stage work.
‘I get to make a movie.’
Cons – 15 days felt really fast for a feature. I didn’t know if it could be done well at that speed. I didn’t know if I could I do it well at that speed.
….I get to make a movie.
I get 15 days.
(I would have tried to do it in less if that was asked of me. I wanted to make this movie.)
Andy Burns: As a Canadian, I’m always hearing how the Prairies are so boring and flat, but Chained filmed in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and allowed for some gorgeous landscape scenery, along with a real sense of isolation. Why Moose Jaw, and what memories do you have of being there?
Jennifer Lynch: I love the prairies. I shot my feature SURVEILLANCE in Regina years earlier. Moose Jaw has a real vibe. Saskatchewan as well. There is so much out there in all of that assumed nothingness. It’s a perfect setting for terror, and I mean that as a compliment. Not everywhere can be scary in daylight.
Andy Burns: One directing characteristic you share with another member of your family is an excellent use of sound. The end credits of Chained are some of my favourite in all of film. Did you always hear in your head how Chained would sound?
Jennifer Lynch: I definitely write with sound in mind. Sound is a character in the film and is as important as the images and the people within them. So much can be evoked with sound. You can really create a world with it and skillfully bring a viewer into a mood.
I’m so glad you like the end credits! I have to say that that was born in post production. An idea in the moment when I was looking for a way to keep telling the story. I realized it was the perfect way to say he went back. We are listening to him.. and we know these daily sounds… and then, within them our ears are searching for her.
Andy Burns: This is a film that features a horrible man in D’Onofrio’s Bob. And yet, even with his abuse and influence, Rabbit doesn’t follow him down that hole (pun intended.) He still has goodness in him. To me, that comes from his mother, Sarah. In their brief moments on screen, there’s a love and tenderness between them that I think sustains Rabbit. Did I get it right?
Jennifer Lynch: You absolutely got that right.
Andy Burns: All these years later, what did you learn from making Chained that you’ve applied to your work?
Jennifer Lynch: You can do some amazing things in very little time. Moments. It’s all a collection of moments. Focus on those moments, not on the days. Play ‘like you mean it.’ A million people would kill to have 15 days to shoot a movie. Do it joyfully, gratefully and well. Pretty soon your moments are a movie or an episode of television.
It’s like a beautiful magic.
Thanks to the wonderful Jennifer Lynch for her time.