‘Unhinged’ Doesn’t Let Its Foot Off the Senselessness Pedal

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Unhinged (PHOTO CREDIT: Skip Bolden)

Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie

Director: Derrick Borte

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for A Massive Overreaction

Release Date: August 21, 2020

Unhinged is basically the Book of Job but like if Satan’s preferred form of torture were the most outrageous case of road rage ever. Although I must admit that this comparison isn’t perfect, as harried single mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorious) is far from as perfectly righteous as Job was. But the inciting incident that she perpetrates hardly calls for the hell that she endures. While trying to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school on time, she slams on her car horn at the truck stuck in front of her at a green light. The fact that she didn’t instead offer a quick courtesy honk is all the justification that Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe), the driver of that truck, needs to go on a violent spree of making bad things happen to good people.

My biblical reference may sound like a rather high-minded interpretation for such a pulpy film, but I don’t know how else to process this senselessness. Tom says that he’s “been kind of having a hard time lately,” but we never really learn what that is all about. The implication is that he’s finally snapped after being mistreated himself for too long and that he’s now going to take out his anger on whoever’s in his way. But since we learn essentially nothing about his backstory, he registers more as an anonymous agent of evil than an actual person. In that way, Unhinged is like a high-speed, wide-open version of The Strangers, as society is invaded by meaningless destruction disguised as some guy wearing the mask of road rage.

The opening credits feature a montage of traffic accidents, thereby suggesting that Tom’s revenge is the ultimate consequence of a selfish American driving culture. But Tom is too undefined to actually feel like a product of that backstory. He strikes me as more of a piece with the motiveless killers that were in vogue in 70s horror landmarks like Halloween and The Last House on the Left, which The Strangers is a clear descendant of. Nevertheless, I think the viewers who most enjoy Unhinged will be the ones whose blood pumps at one-man-pushed-to-the-brink thrillers like Death Wish or Falling Down. Unlike in those flicks, though, the focus here is on the mom who fights back against that guy and summons the strength to protect her cub. That doesn’t really make the carnage any more palatable, though it does at least make it less likely to linger with a sour aftertaste in your conscience.

Unhinged is Recommended If You Like: Taxi Driver but because you want to fight back and teach the Travis Bickles of the world a lesson

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Cases of the Mondays

Movie Review: The ‘Child’s Play’ Remake is Sharp with the Satire but Oversatured in Gore

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CREDIT: Eric Milner/Orion Pictures

Starring: Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Bryan Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Marlon Kazadi, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, David Lewis, Carlease Burke

Director: Lars Klevberg

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Prime Bloody Cuts of Human Meat

Release Date: June 21, 2019

The original 1988 Child’s Play was a sneaky little B-horror pic that snuck in some pointed satire about the crass commercialism of marketing aimed at children by asking the question: if the soul of a serial killer were transferred to a toy doll, would all the adults be too distracted to notice? The remake takes its aim at the paranoia surrounding artificial intelligence. This is oft-explored territory, so the horrors of the next-gen Chucky doll (voiced with easy panache by Mark Hamill) are not particularly unique. But the satire is built around a salient, timely concern: what if all of our smart Internet-connected devices suddenly became weaponized against us? The new Chucky is part of the “Buddi” line assembled by Kaslin Industries, an Amazon-esque tech monolith that promises consumers a domestic utopia with its thorough suite of products, with Tim Matheson as the wise, old, just-creepy-enough face of the company.

While the ideas of nu-Child’s Play are impressively on target, its plot machinations are a bit too silly and Grand Guignol for their own good. Original flavor CP worked on a visceral level because while Chucky was nearly impossible to kill, he wasn’t impossible to subdue. But upgraded Chucky is far more omnipotent, as he can basically become telepathic and telekinetic with the right Bluetooth signal. Thus, it is never in doubt that he is going to kill someone, which leads to the hyper-violent stakes being raised in ways that call to mind Saw and Final Destination much more than I expected. Occasionally, there’s a really devastating sick visual joke to lighten up the gore, but most audiences can expect their bloodlust to be satisfied many times over. Ultimately, Chucky is defeated less because of any weakness and more just because the movie is about to end.

Also in the “been there, done that” category is Chucky’s motivation: the old “if I can’t be your friend, then nobody can.” Frankly, I think that Chucky has more on his mind than just what some random kid thinks of him. But that is what his programming demands once he meets young Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and automatically “imprints” on him. It suggests a worst-case scenario of how it would go if the most smartphone-obsessed among us had their feelings reciprocated. Smart A.I. can be dumb, but while this Child’s Play is satisfyingly diverting, it doesn’t convince me that our devices are that psychotic.

Child’s Play is Recommended If You Like: Smart device paranoia

Grade: 3 out of 5 Stabby Stabbies