A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unhinged is a violent road rage thriller starring Russell Crowe. It takes the standard features of many people's daily commute -- ridiculous traffic, short tempers, and distracted driving -- and ramps them up to horrific levels. Beneath the slasher-film amounts of violence, which includes graphic on-camera stabbings, burnings, beatings, and tons of blood, the takeaway is arguably that perhaps we should be more patient with one another, since we don't know who's on the receiving end of the bird we're flipping or what they're going through at the moment. Or, at least in this case, what drug they might have taken, as the villain is a prescription pill popper. You can also expect strong language ("s--t," "f--k") and some product placement (Volvo, iPhone).
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What's the story?
In UNHINGED, Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is running late getting her teenage son to school -- again -- and traffic is causing her morning to unravel. So she drives around traffic on the shoulder. And then, when a stoplight turns green and the pickup in front of her doesn't move, she lays into her horn. The driver of the truck (Russell Crowe) catches up to her at the next light. An imposing figure looming above her station wagon, he addresses Rachel through her son's window, and says that it was rude to not first be given a "courtesy tap." He apologizes for zoning out and explains that he's had a rough day, and he asks for a similar apology from her. Clearly uncomfortable, she refuses to give on the ground that she has nothing to apologize for. The driver then becomes not just hostile, but murderous, seeking to find and kill everyone associated with Rachel.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Unhinged. How does it compare to what you'd expect to see in a slasher movie? Would you categorize this as a horror movie, or a thriller? Why are those genres sometimes hard to distinguish?
Video game strategy becomes a solution in the film. Can games have a positive impact on kids?
Why do you think the story revolved around Rachel's unwillingness to apologize? What's the power dynamic of a situation in which a large man upset about his divorce terrorizes a small woman who's also going through a divorce just because she didn't apologize?
Why do you think road rage has become a problem? What can people do to diffuse situations that involve a frustrated driver?
- In theaters: August 21, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: November 17, 2020
- Cast: Russell Crowe, Jimmi Simpson, Caren Pistorius
- Director: Derrick Borte
- Studio: Solstice Studios
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Cars and Trucks
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violent content, and language throughout
- Last updated: November 16, 2020
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