Chained for life is the latest film from Aaron Schimberg. In this latest work, we are given a chance to question cinema's ideas of beauty and how they play into your success as an actor and your success in life. We meet Mabel (Jess Weixler) who is starring an indie art-horror film being shot at a semi-abandoned hospital in the middle of nowhere. The film centers around people with severe disabilities and deformities and a crazed German doctor who claims to be able to "cure" these patients. When the movie company sends in people with real-life disabilities and deformities Mabel finds herself questioning a lot of things as her feelings for her costar, Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) who suffers from a severe facial deformity, grow.
I am not going to lie, I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this movie. This slightly left of center love story is anything but typical. When the film opens we are given a taste of the awful movie they are creating and the very shallow cast members who are putting this film together. Even Mabel, who seems to have the most depth to her as a person, comes off a little bit like just another pretty face in films with not much below the surface. When her co-stars arrive she forms an unexpected attachment to Rosenthal who will eventually play her love interest. Mabel's character in the movie they are making is blind and so she does not see anything different about the very sweet-natured Rosenthal until the near end of the film, after they have already shared a love scene together, Mabel's blindness is "cured" by our mad doctor and she is horrified by the people she has been living with once she sees their faces.
The movie takes a shot putting the viewers on the sideline as they try to question at what point does art turn into exploitation and what is the true measure of beauty. There are plenty of attractive characters on the screen, but most are not exactly pretty on the inside, while I actors with disabilities seem like very humble and nice people despite their outward appearance. Mabel is causing somewhere in the middle straddling the line to decide how she really feels. When she sees other women taking notice of Rosenthal she is conflicted by her sudden feelings of jealousy and is confused by the emotional attachment she feels toward him.
Throughout the film, we are shown the many talents of the disabled and disfigured cast members, who are forced to stay in the less nice area of the hospital, away from their "pretty" co-stars. We find them writing their own interesting scripts, telling stories, and making their own mini-movies that come across with much more depth than the craptastic film they are actually there to shoot. They also find a sense of community among each other that they are not given with everyone else. Unlike their co-stars who get to take off the FX make-up deformities they pretend to have every day, these folks have learned to embrace their differences. of course, even using it to land them roles in movies that will ultimately exploit their conditions.
This movie was definitely not like anything else I have seen before and was most definitely not made for general audiences. However, if indie films are your thing and you like movies that you have to take a little deeper look at, then Chained For Life may be for you. It is interesting and thought-to provokes, even if I had to sit on my thoughts for this one for a few days before I could truly decide how I felt about. At the end of it, all this film scores a B- from us.
There is no official wide-release date set for Chained For Life since it just had its world premiere at BAM Cinema Fest 2018, but keep your eyes peeled for this very unconventional tale.