Filmmaker Lynch (daughter of David) knows how to push our buttons, using misogynist violence to keep us uncomfortable right through this contained, stylish thriller. But she also cops out on taking a more challenging approach to such contentious material, never properly exploring the bond between a kidnapper and hostage. So even though the film is involving and harrowing, it lets us down by falling back on movie cliches.
Shot in rural Saskatchewan, the film opens as Sarah (Ormond) takes her young son (Bird) to the movies. But on their way home, the taxi driver Bob (D'Onofrio) instead drives them to an isolated house, where he murders Sarah and turns the boy into a chained-up slave he calls Rabbit. Years pass and Rabbit (now Farren) reaches his late-teens, so Bob lets him study physiology to pass on his "trade" of kidnapping, torturing and killing young women. He also gives Rabbit a bit of freedom, brings a girl (Leslie) home for him to practice on, and takes him out to hunt. But has Rabbit really adopted Bob's murderous ways, or is he plotting something of his own?
The best thing about this film is the taut psychological tension between Bob and Rabbit, which is sharply portrayed by D'Onofrio and Farren. D'Onofrio underplays Bob as a quietly precise man who lives in squalor but keeps every variable under control. He's a killer, but D'Onofrio never turns him into a psychopath, even when we see somewhat hazy flashbacks of his own brutal past. So we can sympathise with Rabbit's feeling that Bob is the only family he has, and Farren's clever performance is an intriguing bundle of cowering fear, malnourished physicality and sharply intelligent glances.
With its limited setting in Bob's house, the film often feels like a stage play, which makes it even more perplexing that it never really grapples with the Stockholm Syndrome theme. Instead, Lynch focusses on the horror, most of which takes place in our mind as we hear but rarely see the ugly violence Bob inflicts. All of the women in this film are hapless victims, and the police in this town are clearly useless at protecting them. In other words, the only point of this film is to freak us out. And Lynch definitely knows how to do that.