Unhinged Review: A Modern Exploitation Film as Forgettable as Any Other

Unhinged tells the tale of a world gone mad, where people are pushed to their boiling points by the media, lawyers, cell phones, having car horns honked at them, the existence of diners, and other mundane things that somehow trigger white male rage. Russell Crowe stars as the man with the titular condition, who spends the entire film torturing strangers and manipulating them into even wackier and more complex scenarios that seemingly require no planning at all. It’s a film that wavers from set piece to set piece and the moments in between these sequences are both aimless and moronic.

Crowe does a decent enough job with the character despite him being written like a cartoon character. There’s a very peculiar sense of a deranged fantasy at play for him as he continues to taunt and torment his victims, the kind that feels like edgy middle-school daydreaming. Moments of Crowe’s ability as an Oscar-winning actor shine through, but they come between moments of him scowling while driving a truck and holding up a cell phone while gritting his teeth in a menacing fashion. It’s ridiculous.

The focus of Crowe’s behavior for most of the film is Caren Pistorius as Rachel, who makes the material work but her character is knocked down so much that one would think she’s the focus of a Coen brothers movie. This is a fatal flaw in the script as it uses brash and distracting tactics and reasons for the audience to assume fealty or negative feelings towards its characters. Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth is no stranger to semi-real thrillers, having penned Red Eye and Disturbia, but all sense and logic fly out the window like a cell phone. One could argue that perhaps this loss of realism is the point of the movie, that the “one bad day” motif that drives its antagonist is something we hear about on the news and is driven by emotion and not reality. It sounds convincing when framed that way, but watching the movie reveals that is not the case.

It’s clear where director Derrick Borte’s heart is in the film as the quiet moments of Unhinged are slow and uninteresting, but its larger-than-life set pieces actually work and show an understanding of blocking and editing. The build-up to these moments never quite lives up to what you end up seeing, a weird disconnect in the overflow of the narrative, but when these intense moments of car action unfold, they’re usually pretty wild. Overall it could have benefited more from crashing and more exploding cars.

Sometimes you see a film that feels like it exists out of time. You know it was shot in the past couple of years, though it could play with the films of decades prior, and Unhinged is one of those movies. A clear riff on exploitation films of yore, Unhinged has a larger place in that conversation due to the William Castle-like glee it takes with being the first major wide release in theaters after the coronavirus pandemic. Even though no movie is worth that potential risk at this time, this one might be the most appropriate new release for a drive-in audience because of how retro it feels (right down to being mostly unsatisfying on the whole).

Unhinged is just the dark-and-gritty reboot of your mom’s favorite Facebook quote, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It might seem like it’s setting up a profound statement on our culture and world but it has nothing to add and actively says very little. Yet if you’ve ever wondered what a high-speed pursuit between a minivan and a Volvo station wagon might look like, this film will have an answer for your query.

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Rating: 2 out of 5

Unhinged will open in U.S. theaters on Friday, August 21st.