Unhinged is a psychological thriller that follows Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a single mother in the middle of a messy divorce and who cannot quite seem to get her life together. Chronically late for work and even when dropping off her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) at school, Rachel is not in the best of moods when she clashes with a stranger (Russell Crowe) in traffic. What follows next is quite simply, the worst day in Rachel’s life as the same man from the traffic light makes it his mission to make sure she learns a deadly series of lessons about what it is like to be rude on the road.
The movie is one of the first to be internationally released in cinemas in a world still struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. While some may still be afraid to venture out of their homes for too long, studios are hoping that Unhinged — with the draw of a major star like Crowe — will be enough to entice audiences back into theatres. In a way, people seem to be desperate to cling on to some semblance of normalcy and to engage in activities they once took part in before the pandemic, including watching a movie in a cinema.
Unhinged is not a particularly complicated movie, but it will have you on the edge of your seat and chewing your fingernails. Director Derrick Borte turns the suspense-meter all the way up as the plot unfolds. While it is not exactly horror, there is no doubt an element of terror as the man enacts his revenge in the most visceral and bloodiest of ways.
Crowe is nearly unrecognisable here as the heavyset and troubled man Rachel comes into conflict with, and the expression of the sheer breadth and intensity of the character’s road rage is breathtaking in its violence and depravity.
Pistorius’s turn as the harried Rachel is extremely convincing. Rachel is scatter-brained but is simply trying her best to make sure she is still a good mother to her son, and is immensely relatable as the Everywoman in the movie. Sadly, the script does not seem to ask for much from her beyond looking alternately terrified and determined.
That said, this reviewer found it worrying that the deranged man at the centre of Unhinged seemed to be a classic example of “motiveless malignity”, a phrase coined by a critic to describe the villain Iago from Shakespeare’s play Othello as someone full of hatred, but with no real motive. The man here flies completely off the handle for no real reason, and decides to take out all of his anger on the one person who was unlucky enough to encounter him on the road.
But unlike Iago, this movie is nowhere near the level of Shakespeare. It makes lousy excuses to try and contextualise why the man is so incandescent with rage, and does so in a way that tries to tie in his actions to more commonplace instances of road-rage caused by the stress of modern life.
In any case, if you are looking for something light and fun to distract yourself from the harsh realities of the pandemic, this is not the movie to watch. I am not so sure how movies like this will fare in this post-Covid climate. When everyone is already constantly on edge and compulsively sanitising their hands, it is hard to imagine if audiences are willing to watch a movie as anxiety- and paranoia-inducing as this one.
Score: 2.5/5 stars
Unhinged opens in cinemas 30 July, 2020 (Singapore). Rated NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language).