The car chase horror movie is a niche but truly delightful genre. Nothing is scarier than having to outrun, say, a big ol’ truck like in Jeepers Creepers or a Dodge Challenger in Death Proof. But throw in Russell Crowe in a Ford truck chasing down chasing down a mom in a 1995 Volvo 960, and you’ve got Unhinged, one of the funniest but also most unsettling B-movie horror films that’s come out in a while.
I’m going to warn you right now: This is not a movie to take seriously. It’s a hell of a lot more fun if you remove the critic’s eye and just aim to enjoy a cheesy movie, because that’s what this is. It’s cheesy. It takes itself seriously, but it’s cheesy. Take a page from my book and get yourself feeling loosey-goosey with a nice glass of Chianti before you settle down to watch it.
Unhinged is basically a movie about road rage gone wrong. Russell Crowe plays The Man, a guy who was fired just before he’d be eligible to receive a pension and now is getting a divorce because his wife is cheating on him. Rather than wallow in self-pity (okay, well, there is a little bit of self-pity), The Man kills his wife and lover, then burns their house down in the opening shot.
He’s not in the mood for bullshit later when Rachel (Caren Pistorius) pulls up behind him in her beat-up Volvo and starts honking. The Man, for some reason, is parked at an intersection through a green light cycle, and Rachel has to get her kid to school because he’s going to get detention if he’s tardy again, and she’s already been fired by one of her best clients.
So, she lays on the horn, and when he doesn’t move, she pulls out around him and goes through the intersection herself.
Now comes the tensest—and, honestly, scariest—scenes in the whole film: The Man pulls up next to her and asks her son to roll down his window. He demands an apology. When she refuses to give it, he lets her know he’s going to show her what a bad day really is and proceeds to try running her off the road.
That part is scary because, honestly, I could see it happening. You meet the wrong person at the wrong time, exchange some words, and now they’re hell-bent on running you over.
After that, things get a lot more unbelievable and a lot cheesier, but also a hell of a lot funnier, if you’re willing to ignore some of the blatant plot holes—like, for example, the fact that Rachel leaves her car door unlocked when she goes into a gas station so The Man can steal her phone and swap it with his own to start killing off all the people in her contact list, or the fact that when Rachel realizes she has The Man’s phone… it still takes her one hell of a long time to get around to calling the police and reporting his license plate number.
Yeah. This is one of those movies where you kind of end up rooting for the villain because the main character is just so stupid. At countless points, the cops are literally on their way to her location, at which point she just… gets up and leaves, thus voiding any protection she called to seek out.
And that’s not even considering the countless other people who witness The Man committing murders in very public places, like in a diner. Or the school administrator who lets Rachel remove her son from the locked-down school to take him… straight to the crazy road rage guy. Or the cops, who are all looking for a dude committing rampant acts of murder on the road, all responding to the crash scenes instead of actually following the guy responsible for the crashes.
Ultimately, the Big Fight Scene at the end is inspired by Rachel’s son, who started the film explaining a Fortnite strategy to her. Rachel, who has no idea what he’s talking about, is able to piece it all together at the end lure The Man to her mother’s house, which has a security system that will call the police and a hidden compartment for her son to shelter in.
I won’t spoil much more than that, but Rachel and her son come out triumphant in the end, and for some reason the cops just let her go after giving a single statement. But I will spoil this next part, because it ties into my most pressing thoughts about the film.
When Rachel and her son are driving home, they go to pull through an intersection and very nearly t-bone a car that pulled out in front of them. The other driver lays on the horn, but the directors make a big deal about showing Rachel’s hand, hovering just over the horn herself. She doesn’t press it. Her son validates her choice. And that’s it. That’s where the movie ends.
I literally looked at my husband when the credits started rolling and told him that it seems like the whole film was written by someone who just got real tired of hearing people honk outside his window in the morning. It’s just… so heavy-handed. The opening montage is a bunch of news clips reporting how bad traffic is getting and how violent people are growing, so I was thinking there might be some subtle criticism regarding, say, Americans’ dependence on cars or their easily-sparked agitation.
Nah. It mostly just felt like the biggest sin a person could commit was honking.
It’s a bad movie, but in that way that can be kind of fun if you lower your expectations and just settle in for the ride. Then, you might just enjoy it.