Director Derrick Borte keeps viewers on the edge of their passenger seat, revving up identifiable tension and driving through the most extreme version of a scenario many people worry about. Unhinged accesses the fear and adrenaline that lots of people experience when they're involved in any kind of confrontation with a stranger in another car. The film is essentially one long, high-stress chase, with a little cat-and-mouse action on the side. Most of its 90 minutes takes place behind the wheel, and what doesn't is bloody and murderous. It's chilling and recognizable, but it's not believable -- there's just too much that could be solved an easier way.
To enjoy the film, you can't overthink it -- but maybe you should. On face value, Unhinged revolves around a message that adults may want to share with teen drivers (or, as we see in the movie, that teens may want to share with agro-driving adults). The film offers an indelible way to say, "Hey, we should all be a little nicer on the road, and, incidentally, you never know what's going on in the life of a bad driver." But if you dig deeper, the movie's subliminal messaging -- and its timing -- is concerning. We already know that women apologize far more than men do. So to have a threatening male character continue to demand that a woman apologize -- as the driver does here -- plays into a problematic power dynamic. Curiously, both Rachel and the driver are going through divorces. Which kind of makes you wonder what, exactly, motivated Carl Ellsworth to write this screenplay, because the fact that Crowe is a murderer on a rampage is underplayed next to the fact that this is really the ultimate comeuppance for a woman. If anything, it feels like ex-husband fantasy fiction.