Dept. of Hammers and Gasoline


I hate stupid people in movies, especially in thrillers and horror movies. Like the mutant offspring of Randy Meeks from Scream, and D-fens from Falling Down, I can’t help but cringe when I see a film set its sights on a well worn trope and then completely lose my temper as it walks ass backwards into it. Often this puts me off watching thrillers altogether. Not from the stress of the situations the characters end up in, but the high likelihood I’ll be annoyed by some idiots stereotypically blundering around. When a film clears this low bar, however, I know the filmmakers are really onto something. This is probably why I enjoyed Unhinged so much.

We’ve all heard the stories. The ones about those men, and they are always men, who think they are due a bigger slice of life’s pie. Who lose everything through “no fault of their own,” and then then use that as justification to go on some kind of a bloody rampage. Russell Crowe portrays just one of those men with terrifying, although thoroughly entertaining, glee in Unhinged.

What A Bad Day Really Is

If Unhinged was Jaws, then Crowe’s “Man” (as he is credited) would be the shark. His Chief Brody? Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a soon to be divorcée who is trying, and failing, to hold her life together. Rachael commits the cardinal sin of breaking some unwritten rule in Crowe’s book on how life should be. On not being civil. In her case it’s honking her car horn too aggressively as he sits through the green light at a traffic light, making her even later in dropping her son Kyle off at school.

Her punishment is to be hounded relentlessly by Crowe., So he can make her understand what “a bad day” really is.

It sounds like the set up for a million other “psycho-stranger” thrillers, from Duel to The Hitcher to Breakdown, but Unhinged manages to stand out thanks to some canny direction by Derrick Borte and a clever script by Carl Ellsworth (Red Dawn, Disturbia, Red Eye) that knows exactly what it is.

Neatly sidestepping those stupid character moments I mentioned above, I never got frustrated at the movie, or more importantly, the characters. Rachel does everything right but Crowe still manages to get the upper hand. Even when dumb a kid stupidly knocks over a very loud thing when hiding later in the film, it doesn’t come off as infuriating. By that point, you’re already totally invested and shouting at the screen. Plus, he’s just a dumb kid!

As the Crowe Flies

Crowe delivers a mesmerising, menacing performance, all spit and venom, a terrifying dark reflection of Dan Connnors (John Goodman) from Roseanne. From the moment he’s introduced, calmly taking off his raincoat as he steps out of his truck into the pouring rain, gathering up his hammer and gas can for a night’s mayhem, he earns the film’s title. He’s never portrayed as some kind of antihero, only the very sick could see anything in him as being other than a monster. The film smartly avoids providing any background that might appeal to the more deranged out there. He is evil.

Facing off against him, Caren Pistorius manages to hold her own, even though they only talk over the phone, for most of the film. With Gabriel Bateman as her son Kyle, they are on the back foot for most of the film but when the tables turn, as they inevitably do, it’s delicious. Like another recent great thriller, Crawl, the jeopardy rarely comes from Rachael’s stupidity or bad choices. Well except one: not putting a passcode on your phone!

Music To Ruin Lives To

The score by David Buckley’s expertly adds to the tension, as does the cinematography, which frames Crowe’s truck as perpetually accelerating in pursuit of Rachel’s beat up Volvo. Crowe hunched over the wheel like a bear chewing a swarm of bees, his bulk squeezed into the cabin of his truck, leaning forward as to speed his truck faster by hate alone.

It’s also immensely gratifying to see almost every little bit of apparently innocuous character building detail at the start of the film become useful in some manner later on. Unhinged doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it doesn’t need to.  It’s is the type of thriller that will have you squirming in your seat at the sudden, extreme violence, but laughing out loud when the tension eventually breaks, culminating in a near perfect action movie one liner followed by a great sign off.

In a year when we all need a break from strain of the new normal, Unhinged provides welcome release for some of that stress.

Just be considerate out there on the road, ok?

90 minutes
Director: Derrick Borte
Writer: Carl Ellsworth
Cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie, and Juliene Joyner.

Unhinged is now screening in Malaysian cinemas.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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