‘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

This Is a Movie Review: Under the Silver Lake

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CREDIT: A24

Under the Silver Lake is Inherent Vice crossed with The Shining.

Shaggy dog mysteries (which seem to exclusively be set in L.A.) have their charms, but they also have an underlying sense of frustration because the mystery is most definitely never solved satisfyingly, or at least not transparently. But they act like they want to solve the mystery. In the case of Under the Silver Lake, though, it’s clearly more satisfying to leave everything confusing. With his tendency to beat people up for minor offenses, Sam (Andrew Garfield) is certainly not a nice person, so it’s fitting that he doesn’t find all the answers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of “conspiracy,” or at least conspiracy-ish happening or series of happenings, going on. Disappearing Neighbor Riley Keough may be part of only a small portion of the whole tapestry. Sam enters Shining territory as his experience of supernatural occurrences feel inextricable from the real thing. He seems to have crossed through a looking glass wherein he might as well have been a part of all this for all eternity, especially considering his aimlessness. It’s an unmoored journey that I enjoyed.

I give Under the Silver Lake 400 Numbers out of 500 Questions.