Unhinged is the first film released in UK cinemas now that they’re up and running after the Coronavirus lockdown. In most cinema chains across the country, instead of a couple of Friday premieres, we have numerous reissues and re-releases, so unless you have a hankering for last year’s filmic failures or you want to watch movies you’ve seen countless times before, you might as well watch this I suppose. With staggered seating, hand sanitiser, and face-masks at my local multiplex, it may have been more appropriate to watch a science fiction or a horror movie amidst all this abnormality, but since films like The Crazies, Outbreak, and Andromeda Strain aren’t showing, this will have to do.
When Unhinged begins, you first see a Sky Original logo, which means COVID-19 aside from ending hundreds and thousand of lives, has also scuppered plans for this flick to be released on the satellite platform 🙃. Instead of Unhinged, Sky’s premiere today is Charlie’s Angels, which means whether at home or at the cinema, your chosen film is average at best. Let’s be honest here: Unhinged is not going to reinvigorate cinema. Blockbusters like Tenet and Mulan may be responsible for a larger uptick in cinema attendance but so far this is all we have. This movie has been out for a couple of weeks in Germany where it did pretty well, and I’m sure it’ll do the same in every other country it’s released in; but this has more to do with a lack of competition rather than being an indication of quality. If Unhinged was released last year or earlier this year would it be as successful? I think not.
Unhinged is an oddly and badly-crafted action thriller. On the surface it purports to be about revenge, and tries to emulate and amalgamate films such as Road Kill (aka Joyride), Falling Down, and Cellular but it fails miserably by comparison. At the heart of this movie is a not-so-subtle message about road rage and how you shouldn’t honk your horn or roll down your window and shout at fellow drivers. The Phonebooth-esque opening credits and final scene both act like some kind of elongated public service announcement about road rage whilst moralising about the perils of hectic modern life and mental health. The end result is somewhere between a poor-man’s Duel meets a really misjudged lecture in a Personal And Social Education class.
Thrillers such as the aforementioned Duel, Road Kill, and Changing Lanes, have all dealt with either road rage or road-induced revenge and Unhinged attempts to park itself somewhere between these classics. The problem is, these older films are written, directed, and acted with better skill and more importantly, there’s no message shoved down your throat. That’s partly what made them fun to watch.
Instead of a Peterbilt truck versus a Plymouth car, here we have a Ford pick-up truck versus a Volvo station wagon. This particular film begins with a confrontation between a somewhat scatterbrained, divorced, single mother and an older, beer-bellied, mentally insane, similarly divorced man at a traffic light. The mother Rachel (played by Caren Pistorious) toots her horn at Tom (played by Russell Crowe) who isn’t moving when the light turns green. Little does she know that Tom has just murdered his ex-wife and is angry at the world. Will her lack of a courtesy tap (a light tapping of one’s horn) rub this psychopath up the wrong way? Well of course it will! The road rage then escalates to threats, assault, and murder with Tom “teaching” Rachel what having a “bad day” really means (but not in a John McClaine/Simon Gruber kind of way 😞).
Ever since seeing Romper Stomper and Virtuosity, I thought Russell Crowe was one of those tetchy, aggressive blokes who has fights in pub car parks over nonsensical shite… “what you looking at?”. Here he plays someone not too dissimilar to this, which means Tom isn’t a stretch for Russell (unless you count his attempt at an American accent which is generic). Gabriel Bateman (as Rachel’s son Kyle) seems to be playing yet another teary-eyed kid with an inept mother (Child’s ahem Play). The cast aren’t exactly tested here and it shows.
The film is directed by Derrick Borte who makes the whole thing look like a TV special. Maybe if Sky had aired this on the telly, it might have worked a little better, especially since my lasting memory of a Sky Original is Four Kids & It 😒. Going to the cinema (with all the oddness that currently entails) means Unhinged isn’t worth the hassle. Aside from the dystopic atmosphere of the cinema, it’s quite obvious once the lights go dark that Borte is no Spielberg or Schumacher; this is quite clearly illustrated by the lack of excitement felt by the viewer. The car chases are never from the point of view of the driver and the other cars on the road are placed in a checkerboard pattern which reduces the chase to a dull left, right, left, right. The fact that more than a half of the film is based on the road, you’d think the director would be well-versed in filming chase scenes but this movie proves otherwise.
As suggested by the poster tagline “He Can Happen To Anyone”, Unhinged may have been intended as a message about civility or a cautionary tale about bad manners but it’s more of a shit sermon disguised as a B-movie. Written by Carl Ellsworth who penned Red Eye, Disturbia, and The Last House On The Left remake (but also the remake of Red Dawn), Unhinged is not his greatest achievement. This is an obvious mish-mash of better films and even though it copies a bunch of classics, it somehow misses the thrills, peril, and surprise they all had. Whereas you felt some empathy for D-Fens and were behind him in setting the world to rights (at least most of the time) here Rachel doesn’t get what she deserves and Tom is hardly in a position to be dishing out life lessons. So who do you side with? Nobody. There’s also various set-ups during the first act (candy-cane scissors, an area of town that’s a “maze of spaghetti”, a smartphone without a passcode etc.) but you can easily predict how these objects will be later used. And oh yeah: just because a phone is unlocked, transferring money on a banking app most certainly needs its own password, which makes a minor element of the plot unbelievable.
Because of all the problems, as an audience member, you’re not exactly fixated on the screen. When I heard “Candy Cane” in this film I immediately thought of the better Paul Walker vehicle. Instead of Fuller, Lewis, Vanna, and Rusty Nail, we have tit, twat, and prick. The thing Road Kill and Duel got right is that the antagonist never had a backstory which gave those films a bit of mystery and dread. Here it’s the complete opposite… oh no, Tom Hunter takes Hydrocodone, which means he suffers from acute pain… sob, sob. The fact that the fucker butchered his ex-wife and her lover means the audience has little time for his noggin and nerve-based issues. Tom wants an apology… Rachel overslept… my what deep and complex characters they are. The biggest issue is there’s nobody to get behind. You don’t sympahise with anyone and you’re not thrilled at any point which makes this movie an engine misfire rather than an ignition that smoothly turns over. It’s quite apt that a Volvo features in this movie because like the Swedish car, Unhinged is also more concerned with people’s safety on the road than style and entertainment.