Released: 30th July
Seen: 30th July
Everyone who has ever driven a car has, at some point, felt a twinge of road rage. Admit it, you’ve been behind the wheel of a car and seen someone make a turn they weren’t supposed to make or beep their horn for no real reason and you’ve felt a swell of anger growing deep inside. It’s a familiar feeling that we’ve all had and so, taking that familiar real world scenario and turning it up to 11 could make for a pretty unnerving thriller. Enter Unhinged which comes along, does exactly that and throws in one of Russell Crowe’s best performances just for good measure.
Unhinged as a film is as simple as it can get. A divorced woman named Rachel (Caren Pistorius) and her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) are on the way to school one day when they come to a set of traffic lights. When the lights turn green and the car in front of them doesn’t move, Rachel blares her horn and goes around the other car. That car soon catches up with them and the man (Russell Crowe) driving it apologises and asks for one in return. When his request is rebuffed he changes from wanting an apology to wanting bloody revenge for the perceived slight, leading to a brutal cat and mouse game between the mother and the man who would take everything from her.
If Unhinged is anything, it’s direct as hell. Before the opening title card is on screen you are well aware of just how dangerous Russell Crowe’s character is and within 15 minutes after that we’ve established the relationship between Rachel and Kyle and put them directly in the path of the antagonist. There’s not an ounce of wasted time, the film knows what you’ve come to see and it gets there as quickly as it humanly can, while also doing a remarkable amount of setup for later in the film. Seriously, pay attention to the opening scenes because so many things are going to come back later and be genuinely essential.
From start to finish, the film is effectively a two hander between Rachel and the man (Russell Crowe’s character does name himself Tom Cooper at some point but the movie credits him as The Man so that’s what we’re calling him) and the both of them play off each other brilliantly. Russell Crowe in particular has never been this intimidating, at least not in my memory. He thunders through every scene like a bulldozer just waiting to take down anyone who gets in his way. It makes total sense to me why no one even tries to stop him, even when he’s stabbing people in the middle of a crowded restaurant with a butter knife… one look at him, who wouldn’t back off?
His performance is perfectly countered by Caren as the worried mother who slowly starts getting the strength to fight back. Going from scared potential victim to final girl badass who will beat the bad guy to death with her bare hands if that’s what it takes, is a hard journey to pull off effectively and she does it all while also taking part in some incredible driving sequences that are chock full of tension. She also has to have a believable familial relationship with the actor playing her son and they also really work well together. Gabriel Bateman is fast turning into one of those kid actors in thriller/horror movies that you root for, since the last time we saw him he was running from a killer doll in Child’s Play and honestly being one of the better parts of that movie.
This movie has some of the most effective tension building scenes of the year, and I know that’s a low bar since there haven’t been many films out this year but it’s still impressive how they effectively turned a truck into the shark from Jaws. Seriously, every shot of Russell Crowe’s car is so ominous and imposing that you instantly know that he could just drive over any car that gets in his way, or just plow through anyone who might suggest he’s overreacting.
Unhinged is, appropriately considering the title, also very violent at times. They don’t hold back from the brutality, honestly this borders on being a pure horror slasher flick at times and the brutality isn’t the fun kind. It’s shocking, terrifying and that’s the point. It’s taking the idea of white male rage and pushing it to its most extreme. Here’s a guy who knows he can get away with a rampage for a long time and plans on dying via a cop, and because of a mild slight he feels justified in doing it. This isn’t that far out of reality, the recent history of incels committing acts of violence because no one will touch their dicks is proof enough that a guy like this could really exist and be this horrific and brutal.
What holds this film back is that, every so often, one of the balls it’s keeping in the air will drop. One thing about movies in general, but particular those that rely on tension, is the idea of setup and payoff. If someone talks about something at the start of the film, that topic will have an impact near the end of the film. If we spend a minute showing off an item, like a gun or a pair of scissors, then that item will come back later on. Unhinged does this a lot in some genuinely impressive ways that gives the audience a much needed moment of catharsis… and then there’s moments where they forget to show the setup, but still do the payoff and it’s not as effective.
There are also some moments that feel like we’ve missed something, like how a certain car was taken or when there was time to hide a certain device. Things that could’ve been part of one of the films tense set pieces are just kind of brushed over and it’s a little sad when that happens because the film is generally so well thought out that these slips stand out.
When Unhinged is firing on all cylinders, it’s a great tension filled ride that isn’t afraid to throw caution to the wind and really play with its ideas. It has one of the more shocking moments I’ve seen in a thriller/horror film this year (not spoiling it but it involves a very unconventional stabbing) and even with a few flaws, it’s just nice to see a really good film again. Just make sure you drive home carefully afterwards, just in case The Man is looking for another victim.