Pegging itself as the first nationwide COVID19 release, Unhinged has boldly asserted itself in pole position during a time where Hollywood trepidatiously approaches the re-opening of theaters. This lean-and-mean pulpy thriller will never be considered high-art by returning audiences, yet it does deliver an agreeable genre throwback throttled forward by its dedicated Oscar-winning star.
Unhinged follows Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a down-on-her-luck mom trying to get her life in order amidst a recent divorce. While driving her son (Gabriel Bateman) to school, a road rage incident involving a mysterious man (Russell Crowe) turns deadly when the man begins to track her down for her actions.
Like a caged lion gnawing to break free, Russell Crowe has an absolute blast sinking his teeth into his villainous role (this clip will give you a good idea of what to expect). Playing “The Man” with a sweaty ferocity and an unnerving menace, it’s a joy to watch Crowe fully embrace the twisted tendencies of the stalker character, putting his all into the performance with his looming physicality and wide-eyed glaze. What could have been a familiar foe in lesser hands becomes a memorably sinister figure under Crowe’s command, reminding us again of the actor’s storied talents. Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Bateman also deserve mention for their committed performances as victims of Crowe’s wrath, selling their torment with authenticity and weight.
Unhinged B-movie thrills are self-awarely constructed from director Derrick Borte’s assured effort. He wisely keeps his film moving at a fast and furious clip, rarely taking a detour from the taunt atmosphere established in the opening frames. Borte’s craftmanship satisfies that genre movie itch, executing a plethora of hard-hitting car crashes and eerie frames with workmanlike effectiveness (Borte and Cinematographer Brendan Galvin nail the kind of intimidating villain shots you would see typically in a horror movie). It’s refreshing to watch a film that knows exactly what it wants to be and approaches its goal with shameless dedication.
Unhinged has thrills to spare, but seldomly rises above its fatigued conventions. Carl Ellsworth’s screenplay does his characters no favors, with a melodramatic first third doing a poor job of setting them up as anything more than mere cliches. Any attempts at elevating its trappings, including a vague commentary on society’s casual cruelty towards each other, fail to render a substantive throughline, leaving audiences with a disposable thriller that won’t stick in your memories. With a vehicle like this though, I expect to be in it for a good time rather than an experience that will linger long past the closing credits.
Russell Crowe’s deranged performance elevates Unhinged into a satisfying B-movie throwback.
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