Review – Unhinged

Distributor: Solstice Studios

Director: Derrick Borte

Writer: Carl Ellsworth

Composer: David Buckley

Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson

Genre: Thriller

As major film studios continue to tentatively hold back their precious tentpole productions, many have been wondering what movies will be shown when cinemas reopen. For the most part, the classics and early 2020 releases have enjoyed another run on the silver screen, though it seems Russell Crowe-led thriller, Unhinged, was more than keen to claim the title as the first new movie to be shown post-first wave COVID-19 lockdowns.

With essentially no competition, Unhinged has enjoyed more attention than a film of its ilk would usually deserve. Admittedly, as schlocky as it might be sometimes, a lot of us have a soft spot for B-grade horror. But does this film fall under guilty pleasure, or is it still forgettable dreck even if it’s the only participant right now?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: This film is advertized as a psychological thriller, however due to the amount of blood and the level of brutality on display, it would be wiser to consider Unhinged as a horror. Lots of scenes contain physical assault; punches and blows to the head, multiple stabbings, strangulation, and people are doused with gasoline and set alight. There are a number of aggressive car chases, where pedestrians are hit and bounce off the bonnet, or cars violently crash resulting in fatalities. The amount of blood and gore featured are realistic in regards to the type of injury—it’s not completely gratuitous, although the camera certainly isn’t shy about depicting such carnage.

Language/Crude Humor: Coarse language is used frequently throughout the runtime. The f-bomb is dropped over thirty times; the s-word is said less but still fairly often. Exclamations like “Oh my God!” are present throughout the film as well.

Drug/Alcohol References: Tablets (assumedly prescription medication) are frequently taken, suggesting an abuse of the substance.

Sexual Content: There is a heated conversation about whether one character is cheating on another.

Spiritual Content: No religion is directly mentioned/referenced. Although there is a conversation about manners, and the issues surrounding forgiveness and revenge are broached.

Other Negative Content: Both the protagonist and antagonist are undergoing divorce proceedings. Road rage behaviors are a central focus in the movie. A lot of road rules are broken (though most instances are understandable given the situation). However characters are frequently negligent in regards to cell phone usage whilst driving; the dangers surrounding such behaviors are only touched upon once, and never feel properly addressed given how much emphasis the movie places on road safety.

Positive Content: This movie ultimately provides mixed messages. At times it stresses the importance of punctuality, and as an extension, being organized enough to handle various responsibilities. There’s also a message about fighting with all your might for what you love. And then there’s the opposite regarding the need for forgiveness and to let go.

Review

Hands up if you want to see Russell Crowe drive around like a murderous mad man for ninety minutes! It’s a premise that’s only mildly appealing, but after months of being deprived from the pleasures of silver screen entertainment, suddenly such a mindless plot feels like cinematic gold. Whether there’s some latent anger about the lockdown situation or some simmering rage towards those that don’t follow the same rules, there is a sort of cathartic release in watching utter carnage released on the big screen.

Unhinged is a film that delivers exactly what is advertized on the poster. It’s a B-grade movie that in an alternate version of 2020 would not have garnered so much attention, but due to current circumstances and the lack of competition, it’s suddenly worthy of consideration if not purely out of boredom. It’s not a film that sets the bar very high. Yet schlocky B-grade horror and quality entertainment aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive attributes. There is always some room for improvement, even if there was never any desire for this movie to win any accolades.

Unhinged delivers an intense sense of brutality throughout its runtime. Instead of car chase sequences where vehicles flip and spin in a light aerobatic manner, the cars are rammed with a gut-dropping visceral weight. The punches feel heavy and the fistfights are devastating. The film doesn’t rely on jump scares, but rather it terrorizes its audience through its shock value. If there’s one thing that Unhinged does get wrong about its advertizing campaign is that it’s listed as a thriller on IMDB; there’s too much blood and brutality, which forcefully ejects it from that genre and firmly into the reaches of horror.

Long gone are Russell Crowe’s Gladiator days, and it may be a surprise for audiences to realize how many pounds the actor has piled on over the past few years, no doubt partly due to his previous role as Roger Ailes in the TV mini-series, The Loudest Voice. Simply credited as “The Man” even though his name is revealed as Tom Cooper in the film, Crowe’s character at first feels ill-cast, trite and overdone. It’s not until a scene at a diner where viewers really get to witness Crowe settle into his character, owning the intensity required of the role and deserving the title of a valid threat. From that moment forward he commands and drives the movie, unfortunately overshadowing the protagonist, played by Caren Pistorius. There is nothing inherently wrong with Pistorius’ performance; it’s just that the character, Rachel, was written as a very passive lead. Her role in the film is very reactionary, where Tom dictates and limits her decisions for most of the runtime.

There’s too much of a divide between the protagonist and antagonist for Unhinged to reach the upper echelons of memorable B-grade horror. There’s already an ingrained difficulty in creating tension between two strangers—rule 101 in screenwriting is to try and make things personal between the hero and villain. Another tactic is to make both characters want the same thing. The film only partially achieves both of these, though it really needed to rework the protagonist’s inner conflict.

Rachel’s greatest flaw is her unpunctuality. The issue is presented numerous times within the first act, and yet this character trait never has any real impact in the events that follow. Why not make her afraid of frogs? It’s just as pointless to the plot. She’s a woman that doesn’t have her life together, though there’s no resolution to her problems after her confrontation with Tom. As it stands, there are several points within the story where the protagonist and antagonist could’ve had a deeper, more meaningful conversation; a villain speech as it were, where the protagonist genuinely tries to understand their point of view as a way to placate them, yet even that pathway is botched, leaving both characters only shallowly developed and conversations nothing more than an exchange of angry words.

There is one strong connection that’s established between the two characters, and that’s the fact that both are dealing with divorce. It’s an interesting development though ultimately it’s a missed opportunity; it would’ve been fascinating if Tom represented Rachel’s animalistic rage should she continue to follow and fall victim to her own destructive patterns and vices. Therefore her battle against him is also a battle against herself, tying together the inner and external conflicts. As lovely as it is to see female protagonists (although certainly common given the genre) the topic of road rage may have been better explored with a male character, allowing the story to evolve into a greater analysis of the roots of masculine fury. At the very least, it would’ve been more believable for a male hero to receive Crowe’s punches to the face; it does fray the suspension of disbelief when the light-framed Rachel receives a solid hit from a man three times her weight, yet still manages to recover time and time again.

Unhinged is also clumsy with its set up. Another rule is “Chekhov’s gun”; a dramatic principle developed by playwright Anton Chekhov where every item seen on stage or highlighted in a story must be used, otherwise it turns into a false promise that disappoints the audience. The term comes from the common example of a loaded gun seen hanging on a wall; at some point in the plot, it must be used, otherwise there’s no point having it on set. It’s otherwise known as foreshadowing, and usually films are fairly subtle, with a side character giving a quick warning about a potential future event in passing, for example.

Yet Unhinged is comically heavy-handed with this technique. Entire conversations revolve around seemingly insignificant inanimate objects, whilst random cutaways linger for more seconds than necessary, as if the director is screaming for the audience to pay attention, sledgehammering in inane details as though viewers have never watched a movie before. It’s so obvious that it doesn’t feel rewarding when those elements inevitably come back into play; it’s nicer when it’s subtle as though it’s a treat for paying attention earlier, or a like a little secret shared between creator and viewer, one which may not have been picked up by everyone else.

The objects and factors that do reoccur also lack a sense of creativity. Entire plot points are hinged upon one tiny security preference, which in turn feels rather forced. Without it, the film would’ve ended immediately. In hindsight, audiences may also realize there’s also a lot that’s lazily established off-screen in a single pivotal scene; items that are crucially set up in order to avoid the plot from naturally sizzling out, and though understandable in terms of movie logic, it’s still a strain on the suspension of disbelief.

For the most part, Unhinged does muster enough creativity to keep the stakes raised throughout the film, showcasing some intriguing conundrums throughout the narrative. There are one or two times where Rachel’s choices don’t seem wise in the presented situation, though the movie eventually does try to explore the more logical routes later on.

The film pleases audiences with a number of intense scenes that aren’t too easily forgotten. Depending on what one looks for in a car chase, Unhinged may not offer the best sequence of the year so far, but it is high up on the list. The action in Peninsula is more fanciful, the cinematography in Extraction is beyond compare, whilst there’s more creativity on display in Netflix’s Lost Bullet. Yet as far as heart-pumping chases using everyday vehicles go, Unhinged cannot be beat.

The end result makes for an entertaining outing, though there are certainly better B-grade horrors to be enjoyed out there. Unhinged was never going to be placed alongside the best in the genre, however it fails to reach the heights of its own potential as well. A few more rewrites of the script and a tighter vision may have seen this film compete against the likes of The Hitcher, but unfortunately its only accolade will be the fact that it beat every other movie back to the silver screen.

Positives

+ Russell Crowe.
+ It’s pretty intense!
+ Brutal.
+ Car chase drama.
+ It’s an excuse to go to the cinemas (remember that thing that we used to do?).

Negatives

- Passive protagonist.
- Internal conflict has no bearing on the external challenges.
- Heavy-handed with its use of foreshadowing.
- Slow to present the most logical solutions to problems.
- Entire plot is only possible because of something really minor.
- In order for the story to work, an unbelievable amount of things were set up off-screen in the space of only a minute.

The Bottom Line

Unhinged is an intense thriller (more like a horror) that will suffice if all one is looking for are some cool car chase sequences and a crazy Russell Crowe performance. Yet for those that understand the true heights that a B-grade movie can achieve, this film will prove frustrating as the poor script squanders the story from reaching its full potential.

 

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Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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