Let’s get this out of the way up front: Chained For Life is not a horror movie. So, ‘why is this review here?’ you might ask. And the answer is: because it’s the type of film that, by its nature, probably appeals to genre fans. Writer/director Aaron Schimberg’s second directorial feature (and first since 2013’s Go Down Death) is a dry, biting satire of the Hollywood culture and, by extension, our own.

Pearson demonstrates amazing acting talent

Starring recognizable actors Jess Weixler (Teeth), Adam Pearson (Under The Skin) and Charlie Korsmo (Hook, What About Bob?), Schimberg thrusts his audience head-first into the world of a German auteur filmmaker. The ‘movie within the movie’ being filmed by “Herr Director” (Korsmo) follows the story of a German doctor attempting to “correct” various “defects.” Horror tropes abound throughout Herr Director’s film. The patients include little people, siamese twins, and a bearded lady. Among them is Pearson’s character, Rosenthal. Pearson, in real life, suffers from a mutation called neurofibromatosis. Fans may recognize him as “The Disfigured Man” whom Scarlett Johansson spares in Under The Skin.

Aside from horror fans, Chained For Life likely appeals to lovers of cinema in general, including anyone fascinated by the filmmaking process. But unlike other comedies about making movies, Schimberg opts for a much drier, blacker comedy that could easily be overlooked. Nevertheless, Schimberg showcases both his magnificent directorial prowess and the cast’s amazing natural talent. Complex camera movement, scene blocking, and overlapping dialogue flow naturally within countless unbroken shots. This sophomore effort from Schimberg results in pure visual literature, on par with today’s best veteran directors. The quality of film craft on display cannot be understated.

Most surprising, however, Pearson demonstrates amazing acting talent that previously went completely overlooked. His small role in Under The Skin couldn’t provide much of an indication on his acting abilities. However, Chained For Life allows Pearson to really put his full self on display. He’s asked to act in various ways, depending on whether he’s playing an actor, or playing an actor who’s portraying another character. Pearson pulls off this transformation beautifully, and could easily have a brilliant acting career.

pure visual literature, on par with today’s best veteran directors

While Schimberg’s direction is absolutely brilliant, side plots threaten to sidetrack the narrative at times, often without payoff. Eliminating a few of these would likely save around ten minutes or so without really detracting from the main themes. In addition, while comedy is always subjective, dark comedy in particular is tough to land. Here, the jokes feel more ‘miss’ than ‘hit.’ Granted, a broader comedic approach would probably lessen the impact of the film’s message, while ironically making it more–ahem–accessible.

Overall, however, while the horror tropes are few and far between, they are present. Granted, there aren’t enough to please audiences looking for wall-to-wall gore, but there are enough practical stunts and make-up effects to scratch that itch while also presenting an important perspective in a unique way. Easily recommended for genre fans looking for a change of pace.

Chained For Life made its international premiere at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival.