It’s been a long quarantine. Everything suddenly stopped in March; however, it seems just as abruptly that the industry has once again gained steam. This week we’re starting to see trailers, casting news and movies once again trickling back into theaters. Here’s what you need to know about one of the first films coming back to the big screen, the horror thriller, Unhinged.
Unhinged follows Rachel (Caren Pistorious), a young woman trapped in the middle of the worst day of her life. Her ex husband is giving her trouble, she overslept, she’s been fired and she’s fighting an unending traffic jam. We’ve all been there. As everything crumbles in her life, she’s overly short with a man (Russell Crowe) at an intersection. Before long, she finds herself trapped in a horrifying game of cat and mouse. You never quite know who you’re sitting behind at a red light. Jimmi Simpson and Gabriel Bateman co-star in the film. Derrick Borte directs Unhinged from a script by Carl Ellsworth.
As is usually the case, Russell Crowe absolutely shines in this movie, which I hate to write, he’s just too good for. His take on the unnamed antagonist brings the hulking, terrifying brute squarely to the forefront, selling this as a truly scary film. He succeeds throughout the second and third act in carrying the brunt of the tension, that is, in between the bouts of sudden and brutal violence. He’s just so… Unhinged. In fact, it seems this man doesn’t even need to get out of his car. Even staring at him through the windshield proves to be a thoroughly unnerving and terrifying experience. While the character is distinctly against type for Crowe, Borte and Ellsworth are able to capitalize and really exploit his rugged and unapologetically masculine star persona to craft a frightening and believable villain.
And ultimately, as the final credits role, the film has more interest in developing Crowe’s unnamed antagonist than Pistorious’ Rachel. We listen to him talk about his lost job, his failed relationships and every single bad break this guy has ever gotten. Perhaps it is due to Crowe’s skill, but this character’s motivation terrifyingly comes across
Unfortunately, Crowe’s character is by far and away the best part of the movie. The situation surrounding Pistorious’ Rachel is just– complicated. The movie can’t seem to grasp just how to come at this young woman. The first act pummels the audience with just how terrible her life is at the moment. It seems it is in this “real life sucks” narrative that we’re supposed to identify with her. However, when her “best client” (Anne Leighton) calls to fire her, but not before mentioning that she stuck with her after Rachel lost her salon, and also hearing that Rachel is only 10 minutes away, this character development seems contrived. Ultimately Rachel is weighed down by weak character development, leaving her feeling less identifiable and more like we’re supposed to identify with her.
However, Rachel is in the unenviable position of having to sell the tension while appearing in a large chunk of the movie by herself. Outside of a chunk of the third act with her son (Bateman), much of her interaction with other characters happens over the phone, a lot of which seems forced for narrative purposes. Rachel’s most relaxed character moments happen in calls with her friend and divorce lawyer Andy (Jimmi Simpson). Sadly, the two’s chemistry is never explored on-screen. Ultimately, for much of the movie, Rachel ends up feeling like a very passive character window for the audience masquerading as a final girl. Pistorious really does her best, and does sell the movie in the horror sequences, but any performer is limited by the scope of the material and this is what happens here.
Unhinged has its fair share of struggles in the script department. However, for those looking for a horror film and thriller, this is where the feature stands out. Throughout the narrative, Borte does an effective job melding moments of nervous, pulsating tension with bone crunching moments of extreme and unrelenting physical violence. In fact, there are moments which are bloody and visceral, making them almost difficult to watch. It was ultimately in the crafting of the horror and thriller moments that I changed my view of this movie. It’s triggering in places, but at the same time oddly captivating.
When all is said and done, it is the horror and thriller elements that allow Unhinged to separate itself from its definite script problems. This is not a perfect movie and it does struggle mightily with its characters; however, this doesn’t derail the story. Fans of the horror genre are sure to find things they like here, as well as fans of Russell Crowe. The actor is doing some fascinating and different things here. Definitely take a look at Unhinged, if you’re up for it.
Unhinged opens in theaters August 21st.