Chained for Life, dir. Aaron Schimberg, USA 2018, 91 min., English
Writer-director Aaron Schimberg’s darkly comedic film-within-a-film touches upon cinematic representation without offering simple resolutions.
Schimberg’s second feature (following Go Down Death) is his response, as a filmmaker with facial deformity, to cinematic portrayals of disfigured people, from Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) to David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980).
Chained for Life’s multi-layered meta narrative casts Jess Weixler (Teeth) as Mabel, a well-intentioned Hollywood star, who takes the role of a blind woman in a hospital-based horror movie about abnormalities, directed by an egomaniacal German auteur. As shooting progresses, Mabel gradually falls for friendly British co-star Rosenthal, played by Adam Pearson (Under the Skin), who has neurofibromatosis.
Simultaneously empathetic and sardonic, Chained for Life challenges the viewer to think about representation and exploitation, while paying homage to earlier film-within-a-film-practitioners.