Chain of Death

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Chain of Death
dir David Martin-Porras
prd Elisa Lleras
scr David Martin-Porras, Andres Rosende
with John Patrick Amedori, Ray Wise, Madeline Zima, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Clayton, Dey Young, Neus Asensi, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Kim Ulrich, Elijah Nelson, Nicolas Montesinos, Van Epperson
release US 19.Jul.19
19/US 1h41

wise zima clayton

amedori and barbeau
Infusing a creepy family drama with horror overtones, Spanish filmmaker David Martin-Porras creates a slow-burn thriller that has flashes of visual style to go with a number of colourfully ambiguous side characters. The film's pacing is a little uneven, and it builds to a climactic sequence that's more than a little preposterous, but the story has some bonkers twists and turns that make it compulsively watchable.
Helping out in the family practice, ophthalmologist Mike (Amedori) and his wife Sarah (Zima) move to Los Angeles to live with his mother Emma (Barbeau) and mentally afflicted father Michael (Wise). But Mike secretly knows he has the same condition. Unwilling to put Sarah through this, he joins an anonymous support group where he meets Piedad (Asensi), who introduces him to The Chain, an underground network that will help him die on his own terms, but only if he kills someone else first. Then things take a turn, and a detective (Jenkins) starts snooping around.
The story develops slowly, shifting into Mike's memories of his teen years (played by Nelson), when he discovered his father having an affair with his nurse (Ulrich). This never quite gels meaningfully with the main thrust of the plot, which focusses on the cloak-and-dagger activities of The Chain, including Mike's gruesome assignment. The obvious question is why Mike doesn't just organise his own suicide to look like an accident, rather than relying on his already shaky perception as he dives into a messy undertaking.

Amedori is engaging at the centre as the everyman losing his mind, something that clearly started decades ago when his father started losing his. Wise is always terrific at playing unhinged, and sharply reveals the harsh personality that lurks beneath Michael's growing dementia. But there's a problem when the two most developed characters are losing their grip on reality, as the audience is increasingly unable to make logical sense of what's happening. This also means that none of the well-played side characters are particularly trustworthy.

The script is undercooked, maintaining a kind of unstructured vagueness that keeps things somewhat out of balance. This is enjoyably disorienting, although it kind of removes a deeper sense of tension from either the family drama or the more intense life-or-death thriller. But as the story ticks along, heading to an ominous date on the calendar, it builds a dark sense of nastiness that, even if it doesn't quite hold water, almost leaves it feeling like a guilty pleasure.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 19.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall