Monster Behind the Wheel
Monster movies aren’t what they used to be. With the fear of nuclear war mostly behind us and the terror of invading aliens having run its course, filmmakers have had to come up with a new kind of monster to scare the pants off movie goers. And what is more menacing, unpredictable, and unforgiving in these times than the angry 50-something white man who feels he’s been wronged by society?That’s the thought at the center of Unhinged, the new film from screenwriter Carl Ellsworth and director Derrick Borte, a riveting psychological thriller that explores the delicate balance of a society pushed to the edge.
Intense, timely, and driven by a totally relatable situation. Unhinged plays off of something we’ve all encountered at one time or another -- road rage. Yet, whereas most of us have never escalated the confrontation beyond reciprocally flipped birds and unintelligible profanities yelled through a barely cracked window, the confrontation at the heart of Unhinged sets off a chain of events with deadly consequences.
The film’s monster is played by Russell Crowe (remember him?) and is credited simply as The Man, the idea being that his anonymity speaks to many who feel invisible and disillusioned in today’s society. We don’t know who he is, but he is out there and we unknowingly cross his path every day. He’s just The Man.
As the film opens we see him remove his wedding ring before storming the house of his presumed ex-wife, bludgeoning its occupants to death, and setting fire to the premises. We don’t learn much more behind The Man’s character or his motives other than that he is a pissed off whirling dervish of raging fury with a short fuse and a trigger-happy willingness to light it. And that’s what’s so terrifying. Like the shark in Jaws, he is lethal, mostly unseen, and absolutely unpredictable.
At the other end of the spectrum is Rachel (Caren Pistorius, Gloria Bell), another victim of circumstance whose extreme relatability -- she’s going through a divorce, just lost her job, single mother, etc. --immediately gives us an emotional handle to hold on to after witnessing The Man’s unbridled rage. She’s running late getting her son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out) to school, and grows impatient when the truck in front of her takes a bit too long to get going after the light turns green. Big mistake!
Of course the driver of the truck is The Man and he takes exception to Rachel’s rather angry horn honk. The two exchange glances as Rachel guns her engine before abruptly pulling around to continue her journey. But The Man takes exception to Rachel’s shortness. Remember? He’s having a very bad day. It’s not Rachel’s disrespectful reaction that provokes The Man, but rather her refusal to apologize for her impolite lack of empathy. He tracks her down, rams his truck into her beater’s bumper with the intention of running her off the road. The remainder of the film plays out as a real time cat and mouse chase film as Rachel and her son try to stay alive by pulling out a few tricks of their own.
As things unfurl, we begin to notice that Borte and company aren’t as interested in exploring the “whys” or the “hows,” as they are in exploiting the “what.” And the “what” is the extreme brutal violence and revenge-motivated rage of a sadistic killer hell bent on teaching his innocent victim a lesson. And that’s where Unhinged’s fear comes from. Rachel could be every one of us and The Man could be the guy we accidentally cut off at the last intersection.
Digging deeper beneath the hood might uncover an anemic red vs. blue commentary of some kind, or perhaps even reveal something about our growing lack of civility and empathy for others. But don’t spend too much time digging. Unhinged doesn’t pretend to be a message movie with lots of heady things to say about society and those who feel they’ve been done wrong. It’s not that kind of movie. Perhaps that would have made it a much better film, but as it is, Unhinged is a nasty enough little revenge thriller powered by eight cylinders of pure malice and hatred. Think Cape Fear or Falling Down but with high octane B-movie goodness feeding its engine.
Unhinged is being touted as the first new film to open in movie theaters since the Covid shutdown. If you’re brave enough to venture out and catch it in theaters, you could certainly do much worse. Just be careful getting there. You never know if there’s a monster driving the car next to you.
(Released by Solstice Studios and rated “R” for strong violent content and language throughout.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.