Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Unhinged (2020)

My notes on Unhinged

It’s August 7th and I the last time I saw a film in a cinema was March 11th – which I imagine is the longest stretch I’ve been away since I was first taken to a cinema in 1964.  Distribs have more or less called off the summer – postponing blockbusters or exploring streaming routes for some titles – the screens are clear for relatively small-scale genre fare like this Russell Crowe road rage movie.  So, Mrs Lincoln, what about the play?

Scripted by Carl Ellsworth – who’s had dues-paying assignments like remakes of Red Dawn and The Last House on the Left, but is here working in the psycho mode of Red Eye and Disturbia … other stories in which random folk, who are guilty of minor infractions, tick off seriously dangerous individuals.  A montage of presumably real-life road rage incidents segues into a prologue in which a Man (Crowe) – who later gives his name as ‘Tom Cooper’ – attacks his ex-wife and her new partner with a hammer and burns down the family home, all observed tactfully from outside the house.  We then meet Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a young Mum with a lot of hassles – she’s overslept, her deadbeat ex wants the house, her own mother is bewildered in assisted living, her deadbeat brother and his GF are in residence, and if her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) is late for school he’ll get detention.  A client – she’s a stylist of sorts, in order to give her a Chekhovian set of candy cane scissors – fires her for tardiness over the phone while she’s snarled up in traffic … and so she honks her horn at the looming truck driven by the sweaty, bearded, huge-bellied menace, who responds just the way the truck did to Dennis Weaver in Duel by setting out to show her what a really bad day is.  This being a contemporary movie, the baddie steals the heroine’s phone and thus has access to her whole life – and sets out to kill his way through her contacts list, forcing her to choose victims, though not feeling obliged to act on her choices.

Directed with muscular, unfussy skill by Derrick Borte, this is a straight-ahead psycho on wheels picture in the line of descent from The Hitcher or Joyride (aka Roadkill) with a few moments of white male middle-aged fury that hark back to Falling Down … the Man sympathises with Rachel’s unseen ex and sees her as emblematic of all the ills that have beset him.  That this is a story of suburban angst – seemingly Ellsworth’s patch – is signalled by a tiny moment when Rachel drives the wrong way down a one-way street in a lower-income neighbourhood and is shouted at by a black woman who sees her as an inconsiderate invader of her turf.  Like all good road stories, it has a lot of signposts – bits of random dialogue about confusing streets, video game strategies and the like all pay off later.

Pistorius and Bateman are fine as the embattled innocents, but this is Crowe’s show – considering he was one of the weaker Mr Hydes, he at last gets a chance to play with his rage monster image (at one point, he attacks Rachel with a stomach-slam to emphasise his body shape) and deliver the proper horror movie menace.


One thought on “Film review – Unhinged (2020)

  1. I had the same March to July no-cinema itch, and this film really serviced my need for big screen action. Would look good in a chunky 1984 VHS box with blurry stills of the impressive car-action and Crowe’s glowering face on the cover! Straight up B movie thrills!

    Posted by tensecondsfromnow | August 8, 2020, 10:33 am

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