There are certain necessary characteristics to make a believable and terrifying horror villain...
...The most common attributes usually include a large frame, near inhuman strength, and borderline indestructibility. Such villains can take deadly blows, wounds, and gunshots with almost no effect. Aside from the physical appearance, the villain’s mental and emotional disposition also earns the diagnosis of psychotic as their behavior comes off as chaotic or even…unhinged. Put all these characteristics together and you have a classic horror villain which promises plenty of unsettling situations. Director Derrick Borte and writer Carl Ellsworth (Disturbia) took the best characteristics of all the famous horror baddies and added an extra level of danger by putting him behind the wheel of a truck. Unhinged brings us a fast and entertaining, albeit brutal, road thriller.
Some horror movies project such a convincing ride, the audience does not have the time to realize the movie relies on pure style. The traditional slasher films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, or even Joyride include an evil and predatory figure who cannot and will not stop. No amount of planning or violence will slow the villain’s progress as they always seem to know the victim’s next step. Unhinged creates an equally unstoppable adversary and immediately sets up Russel Crowe’s (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) character as unstable and dangerous. While sitting in his car, Crowe (credited only as Man) takes some pills and then admires a lit match before breaking into a home, beating one of the residents, and then setting the house ablaze. No interaction led up to the attack and the entire outburst lasted only seconds before the Man drove away. This scene comes unexpectedly and pulls the viewer into the deranged mindset of the villain. Immediately following this segment, the opening credits show video clips of road rage and riots mixed with segments of news reports focusing on the growing fury exhibited in everyday behavior. This portion of the film might come off as a bit long, but the footage properly sets up the viewer for what will unfold. Placing the horror in the hands of drivers also creates a higher level of believability compared to other psycho-focused films. Most people have witnessed road rage of some sort, but not too many have experienced hatchet wielding weirdos.
Anchored by strong characters and a somewhat conceivable story, Unhinged shows what happens when the life of a dangerously delusional man intersects with an innocent family. Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) and her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman [Child’s Play 2019]) live a somewhat hectic life. Trying to balance work, school, and personal affairs keep the two of them in a perpetually frazzled state. Despite their anxieties, the unshakeable bond they share keeps them calm and on track. During the fated morning drive to school, Kyle and Rachel both experience a form of rejection from his father and her client, but they find ways to reassure each other.
However, the Hunter’s are not the only vehicle on the road with some issues. The mysterious Man from the beginning also appears to be having a bad day and a minor issue on the street turns scary when the Man’s looming truck makes his physical presence known. You see, the Man believes in manners, or so he claims, and when Rachel refuses to apologize for honking her horn, the Hunters and their unimpressive station wagon must quickly sneak away from the angry truck. The Man’s reaction, however, goes far beyond honking his horn or yelling some profanities. Instead, the manipulation goes to intense levels as he does not let anyone stand in the way of teaching Rachel a lesson.
Russel Crowe plays a more calculating and level-headed version of John Goodman’s character from The Big Lebowski and I mean this in the most flattering way. Crowe has a large frame, a demanding presence, and goes into angry fits for the slightest offenses. The Man’s actions demonstrate a mentally unbalanced individual who relies on rage to get his point across. However, his words show he holds some dark and deep-seated anger for women as well. He accuses Rachel of behaviors she never demonstrates and makes broad and hateful generalizations about the opposite sex. Also, with each horrible crime, he continually blames Rachel for his deadly actions. Honestly, more horror directors should look into casting Crowe because he certainly knows how to convey ‘unhinged’ well and his impressive intensity shows his potential to play a variety of dreadful people.
Unhinged settles into a sequence of high-tension moments of fast paced car chases with brief interludes of the Man shedding his protective truck-skin and making more intimate in-person killings. Even in between exciting moments of barreling down the highway, the story uses the off-beats of the film to build suspense. While watching the movie, the viewer might see comparisons with Duel (1971), The Hitcher (1988), and Joyride (2001), but Borte and Ellsworth add some more modern details which brings enough originality to the film to make Unhinged more than just a reimagining of previous car chase horror movies.
The intensity never subsides as the Man continually raises the stakes and finds increasingly horrible ways to torture Rachel and her family. Unhinged brings a fast-paced road thriller with a terrifying villain back to theatres, and just might make you avoid the freeway, or at least think twice before engaging with someone on the road.
Unhinged comes to theaters nationwide August 21st from Solstice Studios.
By Amylou Ahava
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