Chained for Life

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Aaron Schimberg

Starring

Adam Pearson Jess Weixler Stephen Plunkett

Anticipation.

Looks like Day for Night for the exploitation horror set.

Enjoyment.

A labyrinthine meta comedy that’s more slippery than expected.

In Retrospect.

A sharp movie about moviemaking, with welcome surreal touches that are best left unspoiled.

Adam Pearson of Under the Skin fame takes centre stage in Aaron Schimberg’s smart meta comedy.

A lengthy Pauline Kael quote about the good looks of actors benefitting cinema precedes Aaron Schimberg’s Chained for Life. Its opening shot, of a young woman (Jess Weixler) navigating a corridor in a shell-shocked but glowing state, appears to complement Kael’s musing.

Yet beauty is about to be imperilled as this woman is actually starring in a horror movie. And then it’s quickly revealed that this horror movie is within another movie, where notions of beauty and representation of bodies that don’t fit societal norms will be skewered to delightful effect.

Sharing its name with a conjoined twin murder mystery from 1952, Chained for Life is set around the production of a film called The Undesirables, where disfigured or disabled people are hired to play test subject patients at a mad surgeon’s hospital. Activist-turned-actor Adam Pearson – who has neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes tumours to grow on nerves – had a memorable role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and he takes centre stage here alongside Weixler.

The latter plays a movie star apparently slumming it in the low-budget schlock horror English-language debut of a reportedly respected European auteur. ‘Herr Director’, as he’s known, is played by Charlie Korsmo with a thick German accent that recalls Werner Herzog, which, in the context of the rest of the film, may be an allusion to Herzog’s own grotesque, dwarf-cast 1970 comedy, Even Dwarfs Started Small.

Chained for Life isn’t a patronising, didactic morality tale about portrayals of the marginalised in cinema’s history. The interplay of the various egos comfortably places it in the company of François Truffaut’s Day for Night or Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, two highlights of the small genre of movies set on film sets where cast and crew from different places on the pecking order try to make the best of chaotic situations.

Published 24 Oct 2019

Tags: Aaron Schimberg Adam Pearson

Anticipation.

Looks like Day for Night for the exploitation horror set.

Enjoyment.

A labyrinthine meta comedy that’s more slippery than expected.

In Retrospect.

A sharp movie about moviemaking, with welcome surreal touches that are best left unspoiled.

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