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'Unhinged' Review: White male aggression, the movie!

'Unhinged' is certainly a horrifying scenario, but that doesn't translate to impenetrable dread or excitement when your message is so lacking.

Russell Crowe in Unhinged from Solstice Studios.
(Image: © Solstice Studios)

Our Verdict

Road rage is one helluvan instigator, but 'Unhinged' isn't a clever enough movie to find intrigue beyond surface-value venom that loses its shock value.

For

  • 🚗 Intense highway thrills.
  • 🚗 Menacing Crowe.

Against

  • 🚗 Absolutely braindead.
  • 🚗 All the wrong delivery.

Derrick Borte’s Unhinged is a mean-spirited slasher enacted in broad daylight. Maybe, in an alternate universe, there’s a version of Carl Ellsworth’s screenplay that better grapples with road rage, white male aggression, and social pressures that drive us to unthinkable outbursts. Something akin to Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, but with (more) crunched steel and highway pileups. That is, quite assertively, not the moral here. Unhinged is a brainless parade of death that is senseless, sporadically thrilling, but always propelled by the most baffling motivation.

A John Doe thinks he deserves an apology (we’ll get into that later), and upon a woman’s refusal, he makes it his mission to murder everyone she loves.

Russell Crowe plays “The Man,” a burly, disturbed driver who ignores a green light until Rachel (Caren Pistorius) blares her horn while avoiding the heavy-duty pickup blocking her route. Traffic ahead brings Rachel side-to-side with said man, who signals to lower her window. Rachel’s son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), without thinking, rolls down his backseat window, and a conversation starts. Mr. Man apologizes and asks for the same courtesy in return. Rachel refuses, “rudely” claiming no wrongdoing. This exclamation sends "The Man" into a tirade about how people these days are self-centered, never thinking about how bad a day someone else could be having. No one has any respect anymore! Rachel has denied this nameless stranger a common courtesy, and now she must die.

Maybe there’d be more tension and moral questioning if Unhinged allowed one man to snap on a whim. Instead, the film’s opening sequence shows Crowe's maniac bludgeoning a family to death in their suburban home before turning the structure into a fireball explosion - hence why my “slasher” comparison comes into play. Crowe is playing an evil villain right from the start. A monster who preys on frustration, and singles out anyone who dare let their emotions explode for even a millisecond. Rachel, the film's prime example, now must fend off a psycho pursuer on the day traffic causes a work client to sever ties and all-but ensures her son will get detention.

I’ll admit, Russell Crowe unleashes insurmountable malice and hatred as a purifier of sorts vying by this demented code. Had Rachel apologized, maybe he wouldn’t have stolen her phone? Run a gas station patron into the road for taking a stand? Stalked her brother or divorce attorney or son’s school grounds? It’s unfathomable to think Crowe’s sweaty saint of death found time to swipe Rachel’s smartphone and tape an iPad with a geolocation application enabled under her seat, but apparently that happens. 

From here, it’s repugnant violence. I couldn't stop wondering how Mel Gibson didn’t get Crowe’s role, while drawing comparisons to the Death Wish reboot. I make those references to draw specific tonal comparisons. There’s nothing cathartic or rewarding about Rachel’s survivor arc, as siblings and acquaintances are savagely assassinated in broad daylight. "The Man" is, quite comically, an unstoppable force that encounters multiple police officers who either get distracted by flaming corpses or become roadkill after cement mixers flatten their cruisers. One by one, "The Man" gets his way. All the while seething about how Rachel deserves her punishment, again, for not apologizing to a frustrated schmo who then flies off the handle due to his personal bad-luck depressions (slowly leaked through dialogue). I mean, pass.

Unhinged would be exciting highway carnage if it meant anything. Russell Crowe’s sadistic performance might be revered, given a more substantial motivation and the ensuing masterplan. As is, Derrick Borte’s backlash against America’s bubbling nationwide irritations is nothing but an excuse to hide behind false representations in favor of diner deaths and demolition derby chases. Something like Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America at least assures you there’s a method to all its madness (teach as many “lessons” before getting caught). Unhinged settles for mindless chaotic indulgence, which is never the “edgy,” “renegade” concept filmmakers hope to pass as cinematic rebelliousness.

Unhinged will be on VOD and in drive-ins August 21st.