“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” (The Joker, The Killing Joke)
When you look into the eyes of madness, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to see. Taken from Alan Moore’s iconic graphic novel The Killing Joke, the above quote by the Joker points to the idea that anyone has the potential to be pushed beyond their limits. While he may not be quite as charismatic as the Clown Prince of Crime, Russell Crowe’s latest role in Unhinged explores the explosiveness of madness when a ‘bad day’ gets out of hand.
And, make no mistake, Unhinged is no joke.
Directed by Derrick Borte, Unhinged follows Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a recently divorced mother who can’t seem to catch a break. One morning, as she’s running late to work (again), she finds herself frustrated as she’s stuck behind a stranger (Crowe) who remains stopped at a green light in the intersection. After honking at the man, she passes him and attempts to move on with her day. Enfuriated by her attitude, the man feels the need to ‘teach her what it means to have a bad day’. As a result, Rachel soon finds herself and everyone she loves have become the target of a man who is willing to stop at nothing to exact his revenge.
As the unnamed beast, Crowe ferociously lumbers around onscreen like a bear on the prowl. Throughout his career, Crowe has always maintained a certain level of seriousness in his various roles and that works to his credit here. While there are admittedly moments within Unhinged that seem ridiculous (Did this really all happen because she honked at him?), Crowe’s commitment to intensity makes him a force of nature within the film. Brutal and remorseless, his relentless rage wreaks havoc throughout the city, with little care as to who may bear witness to his wrath. In this way, sheer wildness is something that Unhinged does very well. Without giving anything away, moments of ‘predictable’ violence are often followed immediately by the unpredictable, allowing the film to mimic Crowe’s character as ‘unhinged’ in its story-telling.
Nevertheless, the very best horror films usually have something to say about the current state of our culture in addition to the thrills and chills that they offer their audience. Whether it’s superb recent examples such as Get Out or The Invisible Man, horror is often a breeding ground to expose the fears and anxieties of our world. In this way, the great irony about Unhinged is that it feels like it has something to say yet struggles to know how.
With repeated messages about ‘road rage’ in the midst of an irate culture, the film recognizes the unhealthy anger that simmers underneath the surface of society. Tossing aside his wedding ring, there is a deep pain seething underneath Crowe’s nameless man, leading the viewer to believe that he reflects the fury of toxic masculinity unleashed. Unable to process the hurt within him, he lashes out on the first woman that (literally) crosses him. At this level, Unhinged seems to work towards some form of metaphor for the loss of masculine identity within our current culture. Unfortunately, however, the lack of motivation (or empathy) that the film provides for Crowe’s unnamed assailant works against fleshing out this idea in any meaningful way, providing less meaning to the film’s wanton destruction.
Vicious and unrelenting, Unhinged will likely satisfy fans of the genre who are looking for a story enthusiastically told with reckless abandon. Though far from Crowe’s best work, there’s a certain level of charisma that he carries within the role that keeps you interested in the method to his madness. Sadly, the chaos and carnage that the film offer do not entirely make up for the wasted opportunity to tell a story underneath that bears as many fangs as the beast that the film focuses upon.
Unhinged premieres on VOD and in Theatres on August 14th