Chained for Life (Movie Review)

Beauty is a social construct that creates barriers within society. Those who are merely average can never fully expect to be great because it seems to be generally frowned upon. The physically beautiful rule the world mentality runs rampant, even when the intention is the opposite. The physically undesirable are still seen as others and not quite human. Making its world premiere on Sunday, June 24, 2018, at the BAMcinemaFest, Chained for Life is a film that collides the opposite ends of the spectrum of attractiveness into a shared uncomfortable space. 

Written and directed by Aaron Schimberg (Go Down Death 2013), Jess Weixler (Teeth 2007, The Good Wife series) stars as Mabel in this outré-art Horror film that is being made in a semi-abandoned hospital. She is a known talented actress that is “slumming it” for this film in order to gain credibility for her craft. Her character is blind and ambles around not fully knowing exactly what horrors live with her.

Mabel is shielded from the truth by her brother, played by Max (Stephen Plunkett: The Mend 2014, Rise 2018) and his nurse played by Sarah (Sari Lennick: A Serious Man 2009, It’s Gawd! 2017). Max and Sarah’s characters are experimenting on the patients inside the hospital. The film is being directed by the ultra-eccentric Herr Director (Charlie Korsmo: Hook 1991, Can’t Hardly Wait 1998). Whispers of his childhood growing up in the circus constantly swirls around the halls.

Pushing the boundaries of perceived decency, a cast of real circus sideshow freaks are employed to populate the film’s hospital. Rosenthal (Adam Pearson: Under the Skin 2013, The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime 2015), a man with a severe facial deformity, is cast as Mabel’s love interest. Mabel appears to be instantly drawn to him both on and off screen. Personality wise, Rosenthal is intelligent and very endearing. Mabel seems to ignore his physical defects as though they simply do not exist.

In fact, everyone on set outwardly treats the circus people with a over enthusiastic welcoming and respectful manner. Though, it is painfully obvious that when the work day is over there is a clear separation between the two groups. While the standardly attractive cast and crew are allowed to go to the local hotel to sleep, those from the side show are left in the hospital to sleep in the dormitory on cots. The excuse being that the hotel is not handicapped accessible. The group seem to take the separation in stride and still find a way to enjoy the experience. When the cameras stop rolling, they gather together in their close-knit group and create their own mini films using the crew’s equipment they are supposed to be guarding.

Herr Director continues to change the script in order to try and push the boundaries of decency. Mabel’s interactions with Rosenthal are both beautiful and shocking. She is the beauty and he is the beast. Though talented and clearly a good person, but he is clearly only being used for shock value. The disconnect is suffocating. Ignoring it can only lead to denial and severely uncomfortable situations.

Chained for Life is a film within a film that has a few shorts trapped inside. At times it can become a little confusing trying to keep up with what is really happening and what is simply another script being played out. It leaves the viewer feeling confused yet salivating for more. Watching the undesirables interact when the crew is gone is eye opening. It is only when they are without the beautiful cast that the viewer can truly see them as real individuals with hopes and dreams. Rosenthal’s dream is simply to be a waiter.

In his current state, people and small animals cower when they look at Rosenthal’s face. He just wants to be accepted enough to be able to serve people food. It is a common profession that for most people is not difficult at all to achieve, yet he knows it is not in the cards for him. He is also deeply aware that though he is staring in a film, his role was given to him because of his physical deformities. It is because of those deformities, that he and his friends are far more relate-able than anyone else in the film.

On the flip side, the other actors, though talented, only secure roles because of their traditional beauty. All of them seem disingenuous as they interact with the other set of actors. They are too nice and too complimentary yet at the same time disconnected. Off screen, Sarah is constantly using beauty masks to try and stop the aging process. She continues to remind Mabel not to smile so that she does not form wrinkles and ruin her career too early. Max brags about not having any scars or imperfections. Their entire careers seem to be centered around their appearance and fear of losing their attractiveness. More is expected because of their beauty.

At one point, Max asked Mabel what her dream job was as a child. She too, said she only wanted to be a waitress. Max points out to her that it was an easy profession for her to get into, but because of her looks she was expected to do more with her life. There are always high expectations with beauty while the bar is set incredibly low for the untraditional, anything that is done is praised as amazing. Mabel and Rosenthal are the same, but never will be because they are physically on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Beauty is supposed to be in the eyes of the beholder, but is it really? Birth defects force people to live separately but side by side with those who are seemingly perfect. Ignoring the difference seems just as cruel as outwardly mocking it. Chained for Life does explore this in a bizarre manner. Viewing the film once will never fully give justice to all the layers that have been created. Ultimately, beauty is afraid of ugly. It is for these reasons CrypticRock gives Chained for Life 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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