Interestingly, the opening few minutes of Unhinged reminds us of real road rage incidents that have made the news. I say interestingly because most people who drive have been on the receiving end of road rage at least once. This is especially true in a sprawling metropolis where one shrug, one scowl, or one one-finger-salute at another driver who isn’t driving well can turn into a nightmarish incident.

Still, despite having been on the receiving end of a road rage incident or two, I never thought the idea-strapped Hollywood would make an entire film about it. Directed by Derrick Borte, Unhinged is a one-and-a-half-hour-long thriller about a psychopath named Tom Cooper (Russel Crowe) who is ready to unleash his wrath on anyone who dares to trigger him.

His victim is Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius). She is a single mother who went through a bad divorce recently, and is having a tough time in life. While driving her teenage son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school, she is stuck in rush-hour traffic to her frustration. Finally, she has an opportunity to move forward, but a pick-up truck in front of her vehicle fails to heed the green light.

Unhinged has a terrible script but it isn’t a complete waste of time, thanks only to the acting performances

Of course, driving the truck is Tom, a deranged man on a killing spree. He recently broke into a home, killed everyone inside, and set it on fire. Tom is set off by Rachel’s honking. He drives up to her, angry, looking for an apology. Not realising that this man could be responsible for the worst day of her life, Rachel doesn’t give in to his demands. After a chase, she shakes him off and drops her son to school, but not before losing her phone to Tom.

When Rachel tries to contact her divorce lawyer Andy, she finds Tom instead. To her horror, Tom violently murders Andy. Next, he sets her brother on fire. After evading the police, he continues to dog Rachel.

Let’s just get this out of the way. The script of Unhinged is terrible. Written by Carl Ellsworth, the film is one lost opportunity after another in what could have been a better, smarter, and less predictable film. The characterisations are weak, with both Tom and Rachel far too one-dimensional to be compelling. In low-brow films such as these, the main characters usually do stupid things. Unfortunately, Rachel is no different. Far too often, we the viewers question her choices as she walks into some terrible situations.

Unhinged could have explored Tom’s motivations more deeply, but its examination of his psyche is only skin deep. At best, Tom’s mentality is given a quick brush of pop psychology.

Unhinged could have explored Tom’s motivations more deeply, but its examination of his psyche is only skin deep. At best, Tom’s mentality is given a quick brush of pop psychology.

Yet, Unhinged isn’t a complete waste of time, thanks to the performances. Playing the target of the craziest driver in the world (or just another lunatic in America), Caren Pistorius does her best to keep her poorly written character interesting. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe gives it his all as a menacing man who is looking to punish as many people as possible. Any value the film has as a horror film is through the strength of his flaring nostrils alone.

Rated R for strong violent content, and language throughout

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 30th, 2020

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