Film Review – Chained for Life (2018) – DFF

by Olaf Lesniak
Chained for Life

Chained for Life will be playing at the Denver Film Festival from October 31st to November 11th. Head over to the DFF’s website to purchase your tickets!

Some movies get their word out through boasting their hundred million budget, massive marketing campaigns, big-name stars, acclaimed directors or attractive special effects, but some have to settle with the simple word of mouth to do the heavy lifting. But in this case, Chained for Life deserves recognition for its daring storyline and impressive craftsmanship.

The following review will be spoiler free.


Directed By:  Aaron Schimberg

Written By: Aaron Schimberg

Starring: Jesse Weixler, Adam Pearson, Stephen Plunkett, Charlie Korsmo, and Sari Lennick

Chained for Life takes place on a movie set of a chilling patient house that aims to cure the physically deformed and disabled.  The beautiful leading actress attempts to connect with one of her fellow disfigured co-stars.

But to call the movie just that would be a waste since it also shows “freaks” and offers them room to socialize and be a member of society.


There have been a few popular movies about embracing your uniqueness which were met with great success financially. And yet here we’re left with a movie that is slightly too small and maybe even ambitious for its own good to go after those big crowds. That’s why we’re here, to help you notice these hidden gems that you otherwise could have missed.

The Leads Join Hands to Express Heart and Style

Chained for Life

image via YouTube

The core of the movie is about an actress who socializes with people she might not find herself comfortable with. She’s less disgusted and more uneasy with how to act around them. Jesse Weixler’s character behaves unnaturally. There’s something always off with how her interactions take place. She’s overly optimistic with her good nature as she struggles to concretely establish a connection with these people.

To the untrained eye, you might feel as if Jesse Weixler is simply not a good actress who overextends her lack of a comfort zone. This notion changes the minute you realize this is the intended effect to fulfill the finer points of this story.

Chained for Life

image via Hollywood Reporter

One other character with whom her relationship gets fleshed out is with Adam Pearson’s Rosenthal. Pearson is a disfigured man in real life, which adds some credibility and a playful, awkward charm that’s exemplified when he too is uncomfortable speaking to others.

The uneasiness between the two characters plays out wonderfully when they come to meet each other. Dialogue is rarely used to describe their dynamic; neither of them have to say much. The dedication put into each shot easily conveys their feelings and thoughts. Moments like these are what give off the characteristic vibe of delight that’s so fundamental to this film.

The Visuals Maximize All Effects

Schimberg has an impressive mastery of telling the true message through visual storytelling. It’s by far his favorite toy to play around with. There is sometimes a lot to take in through actions, angles, and references.

Chained for Life

image via the Telegraph

The movie itself shoots many of its scenes in such an unconventional way. I struggled to describe what they remind me of due to their distinctive quality. At times the film gives off a documentary-like style. Other times, it’s completely different.

The point is, the appearance of the movie wouldn’t work for any other film but this one. No other examples come to mind when finding similarities because it is so unique and rightfully matched. We’re treated with a lot of visual storytelling that flows to accompany the story, setting and characters. Some of it aims to extend its reach into the mischievous, scary or mysterious in appearance, but also ironic, funny and absurd in nature.

Satire is a Supplementary Principal

Chained for Life

image via BFI Southbank

Chained for Life‘s story isn’t so clear-cut, either. The series of events don’t have the harmony you’d come to expect as they unfold nonlinearly to suit the narrative’s satirical structure. Often I wasn’t sure what it tried being satirical of. Maybe it was trying to poke fun at the filmmaking process of non-self-aware, artsy directors? These glimpses develop the idea of the perception of beauty, yet it’s never fully discussed.

A part of me feels like it is better off this way, however. I enjoy the approach of treating those elements only complementary to the rest of the film’s more primary elements. They add up in a way that allows you to understand the whole. However, I cannot help to think there was some possibility to create a stronger identity here.

Chained for Life

image via YouTube

But Chained for Life started with uneven footing as its first moments are a declaration rather than a scene. It’s a giant wall of text explaining the importance of giving all types of actors the chance to star in films. I wholeheartedly agree, but it’s also the initial impression which dampens any of the entertainment or thematic relevance of what follows.

The message comes off more as a chance to gloat about its own importance rather than enabling the movie to work its magic. It’s as if the film is trying to show off and not let it come naturally. It’s a surprising choice, especially with how the movie itself is all about showing and not telling afterwards.

Final Thoughts

Chained for Life is a movie that takes some getting used to as the bigger picture unfolds through off-kilter stylization. The plot and characters aren’t displayed typically, which I certainly admire.

However, it’s a shame that not many people will see the film, and the ones that will are likely going to detect a tale purely made to tackle themes of prejudice. I sure hope this film finds its audience. It deserves one, that’s for sure!

Grade: B+

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Chained for Life? Comment down below!

Visit the Denver Film Festival’s website for more information on the film.

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Olaf Lesniak November 9, 2018 - 2:47 pm

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