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Film Review: “Unhinged” Quickly, and Violently, Comes Apart

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 21st, 2020

Film poster: “Unhinged”

Unhinged (Derrick Borte, 2020) 1 out of 4 stars. 

If you enjoy watching innocent people killed by a madman in gruesome fashion, each act meant to ratchet up the audience’s desire to see the eventual revenge against the killer meted out at the end, then Unhinged might be for you. Featuring Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys) as said maniac, filled with explosive rage, the film at least offers moments of fine performance from its lead, though they are frequently interspersed with scenes of deeply unpleasant, gratuitous violence. Too many horrible things happen inside the movie’s 90 minutes to be worth recounting. It’s a narrative nightmare, almost made worse by how well it is assembled.

The story begins with Crowe murdering his ex-wife and her husband (with a hammer) and burning down their house. Cut to a new location on the next day, where we meet soon-to-be-divorced mother Rachel (Caren Pistorius, Gloria Bell), her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman, Think Like a Dog), and her brother and his fiancée, temporarily living in her home. Rachel’s a bit of a mess right now and wakes up late, Kyle struggling to usher her out the door so she can, for once, get him to school on time. In the ensuing rush, the duo find themselves increasingly frustrated by traffic. And who do they come across at a light? Crowe, lost in his own troubled thoughts, blocking the road. The hapless Rachel makes the mistake of honking at him, setting of a chain of events that will lead to the death of many, including some of her own friends and loved ones. Combine Steven Spielberg’s 1971 Duel with Joel Schumacher’s 1993 Falling Down, add excessive destruction and murder, and you get the idea.

Caren Pistorius in UNHINGED ©Solstice Studios

There is the horrible, continuous collateral damage, and then the additional torture of watching Rachel make every bad mistake she can before, finally, beginning to formulate something of a plan. Pistorius holds her own – and is actually impressive, acting acute distress behind the wheel, driving desperately forward – but is saddled with actions that initially make us cringe. Crowe may be his usual excellent self, but to what purpose? Yes, it’s a thrill ride, but not the kind that excites anyone not psychotic. In order to appreciate Unhinged, in other words, one must be a little unhinged. No thank you.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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