Kieth Carradine and Darryl Hannah Play Psychotic Parents in This 1990’s Thriller



Desperate parents, a broken world, a veteran actor gone grizzled, and an American actress out of her element and playing crazy.  All culminating in the senselessly tragic burning of a remote farmhouse.  No, it’s not exactly Tarkovsky- though The Tie That Binds does share the above-listed similarities with the great Russian director’s swan song, The Sacrifice.  

Granted, this is a good nine years later and a Disney movie.  Though, considering the amount of violence and disturbing themes in The Tie That Binds, that latter information about the identity of its home studio may prove particularly shocking to some.  And even so, sadly, only devoted cinephiles are likely to make the former (Tarkovsky) connection, anyhow.  Odds are that more people have seen and are familiar with The Tie That Binds over an oblique Russian art-house classic.  They’ve also probably long since forgotten The Tie That Binds; but then, that’s why we now have the Blu-ray edition.

Keith Carradine plays a standard ‘90s movie psycho; top-billed Daryl Hannah is his hopelessly devoted moll.

Is this film worth discovering or revisiting?  That depends on one’s penchant for the once ubiquitous, now defunct 90’s Hollywood thriller.  Midrange to a generic fault, 1995’s The Tie That Binds followed the success of Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (itself a veritable offshoot of Adrian Lynne’s zeitgeist rattler, Fatal Attraction, nearly a decade earlier) in a glossy string of mutated Neo-Noirs depicting the dark trials of suburban parents under duress.  (Also see: Alan J. Pakula’s Consenting Adults).  The aftermath of the consumer-centric “morning in America” Reagan/Bush era had given way to the saline morality of the Clinton era, a sociological shift perhaps most pronounced onscreen in this sub-subsection of cinema.  Long gone are the foundational evolutions apparent in the illicit and decadent tensions of popular, earlier Neo-Noirs such as Chinatown and Body Heat, wherein gloriously convoluted plots generated steam, with not a child in sight.

Keith Carradine threatens a victim in THE TIE THAT BINDS.

With The Tie That Binds, we have a full-blown and somewhat amplified catch-all Neo-Noir with most of the fixin’s.  The villains are hair-trigger maniacs, the camerawork is needlessly showy, the violence is over-the-top brutal, and the central “nature versus nurture” questions the story asks are unintentionally uncomfortable.  

Keith Carradine (Altman’s Nashville) plays a standard ‘90s movie psycho; top-billed Daryl Hannah is his hopelessly devoted moll.  When they’re not roaming around flamboyantly terrorizing and murdering innocent people, they raise their precious little daughter, Janie (Julia Devin).  

After plot mechanizations remove Janie from their care, she’s adopted by a young childless couple played by Moira Kelly (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me) and Vincent Spano (Alive).  She might just be the darling little girl they always wanted- were it not for some disturbing behaviors she exhibits.  Since back then, the adoption agency couldn’t offer any answers to the identity of Janie’s biological parents, their need to know propels them closer and closer to the awful truth.

Not far away, the psychotic parents want their baby girl back!  Falsified identities and sharp objects only get them so far so fast, though.  They spend the bulk of the film’s running time murdering their way to Janie’s new parents, who eventually figure out that they’re coming, and opt to go live in their still-under-construction dream house out in the woods.  Still-under-construction meaning, still basically a wood frame with plastic sheeting stapled up everywhere.  It’s a desperate situation, sure, but this solution- hiding alone in a house with no walls that’s far away from anything or anyone- seems like a particularly poor one.

(l-r) Vincent Spano, Julia Devin, and Moira Kelly are a happy new family.

When the crazy baddies inevitably do arrive, the showdown turns epic.  Hangings, stabbings, painful falls (often through plastic sheeting) running around on high narrow planks, physical assaults… all, naturally, while the whole place is on fire.  The seemingly endless skirmish spills out into the woods, at times taking on a fairy tale-like visual tone that is not uninteresting.   In the end, though, the settling of the dust has been long coveted by the viewer.  It’s safe to say that no one at the time probably expected The Tie That Binds to end in a exhaustingly prolonged knock-down/drag-out.  All the while, the viewer is left to wonder, is little Janie evil, too?  Can she be trusted?  She is, after all, a weird horror movie kid…

Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new special edition blu-ray of The Tie That Binds is well stocked enough to give any fan of this film reason enough to pick it up.  Director Wesley Strick, best known as a screenwriter (Scorsese’s Cape Fear and Arachnophobia back then; The Man in the High Castle now) this his one and only theatrical directorial effort- with a screenplay not by him, but by Michael Auerbach (this being his only produced feature screenplay; he’s more of a reality TV editor these days).  This strange professional do-si-do doesn’t negatively impact The Tie That Binds, at least not in any markedly perceptible way.  

More transparent are these creators’ needs to prove themselves.  On his newly recorded audio commentary track, Strick shares that he was able to study Martin Scorsese’s directorial skills while Cape Fear was in production- which explains the frequent implementation of showy camera action.  He also confides that, at the time, he considered The Tie That Binds to be a “secret remake of Night of the Hunter”, replacing Robert Mitchum’s vile man of the cloth with Carradine & Hannah’s trailer park Joker & Harley Quinn.  Apparently this is an angle he sticks to after all these years, though to gently point out to him that it’s not exactly a one-to-one comparison would be beyond generous.

The Blu-ray looks good, even if it’s A/V may never set the world on fire.  Other bonus features include mercifully brief vintage publicity interviews with various members of the cast, a “production story featurette”, the trailer, and a few minutes of forgettable “b-roll” footage.

Whether The Tie That Binds evokes The Sacrifice, Cape Fear, or Night of the Hunter, the fact of the matter is that it can’t survive in comparison.  Whether its similarities were natured or nurtured, this potboiler built on adoption fears feels misguided at best, tasteless at worst, and ridiculous no matter what.


The images used in this review are used only as a reference to the film and do not reflect the image quality of the Blu-ray.