31st Jul2020

‘Unhinged’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman, Austin P. McKenzie, Anne Leighton | Written by Carl Ellsworth | Directed by Derrick Borte

Russell Crowe stars as a psycho trucker in Unhinged, an exciting thriller from director Derrick Borte. Given that it’s one of the first mainstream films to receive an actual theatrical release during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s likely to be one of the best films you’ll see in a cinema all year.

Unhinged opens with Crowe’s unnamed and clearly troubled trucker bashing someone’s door in with a massive hammer before brutally murdering everyone inside. The next time we see him, he’s on the motorway, where he doesn’t take too kindly to being honked at by single mother Rachel (Caren Pistorius) and her young son (Gabriel Bateman). Crowe gives Rachel the opportunity to apologise, but when she refuses, he goes full-blown psycho, stealing her phone and vowing to show her what “having a bad day” really means. To Rachel’s horror, it turns out that what he means is that he’s going to basically straight-up murder everyone she cares about, while taunting her on the phone at the same time.

Crowe is utterly terrifying as the road rager from Hell (it’s like the trucker from Duel grew a face), playing him as a man who’s decided he has nothing to lose, since he’s already wanted for multiple murders anyway. That lack of fear gives the performance a disturbing edge, particularly when it becomes apparent that Crowe’s trucker is prepared to conduct his horrific acts in broad daylight, in front of witnesses.

Borte heightens the horror still further by using Crowe’s decidedly chunky physicality to chilling effect. There’s a lot of weight behind his various punches and they connect with a series of sickening crunches. (Full marks to both the sound department and special effects team there).

Direction-wise, Borte’s control of the film is extremely impressive throughout, whether ratcheting up the tension for a nail-biting suspense sequence, orchestrating a thrilling freeway chase or delivering a satisfying final act. On a similar note, the film is paced extremely well, with Borte staying one step ahead of the audience at all times, in terms of the various twists and turns.

In addition, there are several nice touches in Carl Ellsworth’s script, most notably the opening scenes, which use real-life road rage footage to illustrate that we’re all getting angrier and more frustrated as a society. To that end, whether by accident or design, it feels very much like a film for our troubled times – no doubt the filmmakers went back and forth over whether to include footage of Trump.

Unhinged also benefits from a stripped down approach to both its story and characters – it’s an extremely efficient 90 minutes that doesn’t waste any time before getting down to business.

Ultimately, Unhinged does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s exactly the psycho trucker movie you’re expecting from the premise and the trailer and it’s all the more effective for its simplicity. As an added bonus, it will also ensure you drive that much more carefully the next time you get behind the wheel. Remember: don’t drive angry.

**** 4/5

Unhinged is in UK cinemas now. Audiences can find where to see the film in the UK and Ireland on https://unhinged.film

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