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Film / Unhinged

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"This is where your first lesson begins."
Rachel: What do you want?
The Man: I need you to learn what a bad day really is. And I need you to learn how to say you’re sorry. And you’re going to learn through violence and retribution.

Unhinged is a 2020 action thriller starring Caren Pistorius and Russell Crowe.

Rachel Hunter (Pistorius) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet for herself and her teenage son Kyle, as well as her freeloading brother Fred and his fiancée Mary. Events conspire to get her stuck in a typical New Orleans rush hour traffic jam, where she thinks nothing about honking at some dude in a grey pickup truck who failed to notice the green traffic light. Big mistake. Said guy - chillingly portrayed by Russell Crowe - is not only having a really bad day himself; he also murdered two people already the previous night. When Rachel stubbornly refuses to accept his apology and apologize to him in return, he embarks on a brutal campaign to teach her a lesson about mutual respect.

The film was released in Germany as Unhinged - Außer Kontrollenote  on July 16, 2020, with the US release following one month later on August 21, 2020. It later received an Early-Bird Release on digital platforms on October 20th due to some theater closures.


Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

Unhinged contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Caren Pistorius was 30 at the time of filming and looks even younger, which makes Rachel having a 15-year old son feel a bit off. Probably a case of Teen Pregnancy, but the topic isn't elaborated on.
  • Adult Fear: Not only did Tom go after Rachel's friends and family members, he was going to kill her teenage son Kyle as well.
  • The Alleged Car: Rachel's decrepit Volvo is in such bad shape that her son considers even the neighbors' lame family van a Cool Car by comparison. Surprisingly, it serves them without fault throughout the entire film.
  • An Aesop: Be nice to your fellow citizens. They have enough on their plate without you venting your own frustration on them. And some of them might be dangerous psychopaths. Rachel's definitely taken this to heart, if the ending is any indication.
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  • Apathetic Citizens: Averted, even in a situation with Bystander Syndrome. The first time, a couple of people in a gas station, the cashier and customer Nice Guy, both notice that Rachel is clearly worried about something and offer to help her. In another case, the customers of the diner all suffer Bystander Syndrome witnessing Andy's murder, but it's clear that they're horrified with what they're seeing and are not apathetic to it.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Rachel and Kyle are shown sitting in a traffic jam on Camp Street in the Garden District, then moments later they are coming back across the Crescent City Connection from the West Bank: the exact opposite direction. Several other cuts throughout the movie show characters' cars driving from multiple impossible different directions around New Orleans. Lampshaded when Rachel actually gets chewed out for driving down a one-way street.
  • Ax-Crazy: As part of the Man's Establishing Character Moment — he calmly gets out of his vehicle, sets his jacket inside it, removes a hammer and a gas can from the backseat, breaks down the door, kills his ex-wife and her husband, then lights the house on fire before calmly walking out and getting back into his vehicle.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After the Man swipes Rachel's smartphone, he more or less knows everything about her social circle and uses this knowledge to make her choose the next person he'll kill. When she picks Debrahnote , he instead pays her brother Fred a visit and ends up killing his fiancée and almost killing him.
  • Being Good Sucks: The Nice Guy who helps Rachel at the gas station and gets the license plates for the Man's vehicle is subsequently run over seconds afterwards, and barely survives, according to the news report afterwards.
  • The Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Man is dead, Rachel and Kyle are alive and her brother Fred has also survived. However, he likely suffered heavy burns from being set on fire by the Man, his fiancée was brutally murdered before his eyes, Rachel's best friend is dead, numerous innocent bystanders were either hurt or killed in the car chases, and even if Rachel gets out of this whole thing without being tried in court for the collateral damages, she's still basically out of a job while having no financial reserves to speak of.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Fred pisses his pants after the Man kills Mary, tapes him to a chair, and pours gasoline on him with the intent to set him on fire.
  • Captain Obvious: Especially the female gas station clerk who says Road Raging like it's some new term no one's familiar with.
  • Car Chase: Half the movie consists of these, with the main characters either chasing each other or chasing after something else while trying to evade the other.
  • Car Fu: The Man uses his grey pickup truck to great effect at several points, pushing cars out of the way, hitting bystanders and (at one point) causing a chain reaction crash that takes out multiple vehicles.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The police show up too late to save Fred's wife from being murdered and barely in time to drive The Man away so Fred can be transported to the ER after having been set on fire. During the final showdown, the cops don't even show up on site until after Rachel has dealt with the Man on her own.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Rachel having no lock whatsoever on her smartphone turns into a villainous example.
    • The Vanity License Plate on the neighbors' family van, which the camera pauses on for several moments. This is later used for Rachel's realization that the Man is driving her friend's van, and has already killed her.
    • Rachel's sugar cane scissors, which she is searching for in the first act, prove to be instrumental to the Man's death, as she uses them to impale him in the eye twice.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kyle trying to explain his most recent "Fortnite strategy" (a pincer attack on an enemy) to Rachel comes in handy later in the film.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Aside from some weed, Fred tries to make the Man go away by offering him a mighty ten bucks. Maybe. The circumstances keep it from being funny, though, and instead make the situation more terrifying.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Much of the plot hinges on multiple convenient coincidences to work.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The Man's entire motivation and violence afterwards is motivated by Rachel refusing to apologize to him, even after he apologizes and her own son is telling her to do so. This is what people mean by "Music soothes the savage beast." Though considering how the Man reacts to a later apology, it's doubtful this would've done much good.
    • Had Rachel not chosen this particular day to sleep in, she might not have encountered him at all and a lot of people would probably still be alive.
    • If she haven't left her car unlocked at the gas station, Tom Cooper wouldn't have exchanged their phones so he could send her threats or read her profile and contract list.
    • The villain would have been defeated much sooner, if the diners and staff weren't too cowardly to gang up on him!
    • The Man could've been stopped even sooner than the diner incident if the Nice Guy at the gas station just called the cops and let Rachel explain to them what happened, something the cashier straight up suggested. Given that the Man had murdered and burned down his ex-wife's home, he probably would've been taken into custody for interrogation right then and there and been convicted later. But they didn't know that. They all thought it was just a regular guy being a particularly aggressive road rager.
  • Deep South: Way on down in Nola.
  • Determinator:
    • The Man displays almost Terminator-level determination in teaching Rachel a lesson, with not even being shot in the shoulder doing much to slow him down. He even tries to get up one last time with a freaking pair of scissors stuck halfway in his eye.
    • Rachel is no slouch either when she goes full Mama Bear.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The plot revolves around a man exacting brutal retribution on a woman because she honked at him when he missed the traffic light switching to green and refused to apologize to him for it. A lot of people end up dead because of it.
  • Driven to Villainy: The Man might be a violent psychopath, but his rampage is not without reason. Namely, losing most of his possessions in his divorce, and then getting laid off by his long-time employer shortly before his retirement with his pension rights canceled. It doesn't excuse what he does, but his level of frustration with the world is something a lot of people will be able to relate to. And possibly subverted when the news states that his wife already had a restraining order on him, implying Domestic Abuse.
  • Domestic Abuse: Implied to be the reason behind The Man's ex-wife divorcing him. It's stated in the news that she had already gotten a restraining order against him when he murdered her and her boyfriend.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The Man, and a suprising number of other drivers to the point several deaths aren't even the Man's directing fault due to nobody braking or even attempt to swerve.
  • Drop the Hammer: The film starts with the Man brutally dispatching his ex-wife and her new husband with one, right before he lights the house on fire.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Barring the short prologue, all events of the film play out over a few hours at most.
  • Eye Scream: Rachel finally kills the Man by driving a pair of scissors into his left eye. Twice.
  • Fake American: The Australian Russell Crowe, playing a New Orleans local.
  • Fat Bastard: Though not outright fat, the Man is certainly quite overweight. He's also an unrepentant murderer.
  • Foil: Both Rachel and the Man are actually in quite similar personal and economic situations, but whereas Rachel continues to be a compassionate person, the Man gave in to his darker urges.
  • For Want of a Nail: None of the events of the film, barring the Man's double murder in the prologue, would've happened if Rachel hadn't slept in.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: The Man lost his job and recently got divorced from his wife. While him murdering her and her boyfriend is understandable, it's not excusable. And even if it was, nothing excuses terrorizing an innocent woman, threatening to murder her loved ones, and killing various bystanders all because said woman honked her horn at you and didn't apologize for it.
  • Incendiary Exponent: The Man seems to get off on lighting things on fire, both in the prologue (when he lights the house on fire) and when he does the same to Fred, though the latter survives.
  • Inertial Impalement: The Man kills Mary by pushing her onto the kitchen knife Fred was holding in an attempt to fend off the Man.
  • Jump Scare: Rachel gets startled by a red light runner on her way to visit her brother in the hospital. She almost honks her horn in response, but thinks better of it after considering all the hell she got put through the last time she did that.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Man does this twice, although the second victim survives.
  • Made of Iron:
    • The amount of abuse Rachel goes through in the third act firmly cements her as this, with her tanking or otherwise-brushing off numerous hits, as well as being thrown against objects multiple times, by the Man.
    • For that matter, the Man survives getting shot at least once in the shoulder, and being in a car crash (caused by Rachel) without slowing down. The only thing he does do is swallow his prescribed medication (hydrocodone) at several points to tank the pain.
  • Mama Bear: If you get between Rachel and her son, she will end you, something actual mama bears are famous for.
  • Moody Trailer Cover Song: The trailer has one of Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box.
  • Never My Fault: The Man blames society for his life going to hell ( Mainly, getting divorced by his wife, being laid off by his boss, and having his pension rights cancelled) when it's implied that the reason for this was because of his own violence and substance abuse. Gets taken Up to Eleven with Mary's death; he acts like it was Fred's fault she died, while conveniently ignoring that The Man killed her by throwing her onto the knife Fred was holding.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The two most selfless characters in the film (Rachel's best friend, a lawyer who also provides legal advice to her for free, and the Nice Guy at the gas station) pay with their lives for their attempts at helping her against the Man. Although according to a news report the latter barely survived.
  • No Name Given: A weird case. Russell Crowe's character does introduce himself as Tom Cooper at one point, but nobody else ever uses that name - not the cops, not the media, not even Rachel herself. And then the credits only list him as "The Man". Given what he's been doing all the time, it's not unlikely that Tom Cooper isn't his real name. Given his nihilism however, he had nothing to gain from lying, meaning there is a possibility he was telling the truth.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Downplayed. The Man gets shot in the shoulder and is in visible pain, but he takes painkillers to diminish the effects it has.
  • Pedal-to-the-Metal Shot: A few, of Rachel's low-cut white Converse sneakers.
  • Police Are Useless: The only thing the police accomplish in the whole film - shooting the Man in the shoulder - does nothing to slow him down, leaving Rachel to fend for herself the entire time. Lampshaded when Rachel is able to reach police dispatch (in the process of trying to escape the Man, who has just caused a multi-vehicle car crash), and is told that all units are responding to the crash — which Rachel then says was caused by the person chasing her.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    Rachel: (in reference to one of the Man's first lines towards her, just before kicking the scissors into his head) Here's your fucking COURTESY TAP!
  • Product Placement: Rachel's white, low cut Converse sneakers, featured repeatedly in several close-up shots of her working the gas and brake pedals.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Man's reason for going on a rampage against Rachel? She honked at him at a traffic stop.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film opens with a voice-over news report about society growing increasingly unstable, vindictive and violent, especially in car traffic, which leads to more and more cases of people snapping and going on road rage rampages. Sadly, though of course exaggerated in the movie, this is indeed Truth in Television. The news clip also mentions an epidemic making people's lives even harder than usual, in a film released during the worldwide COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • The Savage South: A realistic deconstruction of the popular idea that people are friendly down in New Orleans.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Falling Down. Both revolve around a working class, middle-aged man who has been left by his wife and fired from his job and is now taking his wrath out on anyone who provokes him and are set over the course of a single day. The difference being that Bill Foster, bad as he was, mostly stuck to petty yet extreme displays of aggression and only directly killed one person in self-defense while The Man has already killed two at the start and does so with many others without a second thought, just to go after Rachel. While Bill was portrayed sympathetically, as an extremely troubled man who was as much a victim of his own serious anger issues as everyone else was and who just wanted to go back to a time when things were happy, The Man is portrayed as an absolute monster with no redeeming traits of any kind.
  • Spree Killer: The Man kills his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in the prologue, a few hours before the rest of the film takes place. After targeting Rachel, he primarily attacks people she knows, but he also remorselessly mows down anyone who gets in his way, even by accident. In total, he kills at least six people in the span of a single morning.
  • The Stoner: Fred mentions having some good pot in the kitchen when he's cornered by the Man, thinking him to be a normal home invader.
  • Stout Strength: The Man is as strong as he is heavyset, capable of kicking in a door at the first try and throwing grown humans around like ragdolls.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The Man gets shot and, while it doesn't incapacitate him, he still takes heavy painkillers to continue his rampage as opposed to other films where such characters barely give bullet wounds a second thought. Even someone motivated by pure rage is still human.
  • Take That!: The marketing for the movie delivered a jab towards Tenet on that film's opening weekend, via Twitter: "This weekend see a movie that won't make your head hurt."
  • Tap on the Head: Rachel takes multiple very hard knocks to the head, but always gets up again seconds later with nothing but minor bruising instead of concussions, skull trauma or worse.
  • Tempting Fate: The classic "at least it can't get any worse, right?" line makes a showing, so of course things do get a whole lot worse shortly afterwards.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • One of the collateral victims of the many car chases is a vapid woman who was doing her eyelashes in the rear mirror while driving on the freeway during rush hour. This sort of behavior is Truth in Television as similar behavior, from talking on the phone, to eating, to doing makeup, to watching a movie, has been caught on video and posted to social media or used as evidence in criminal proceedings. It has also, tragically, resulted in fatal crashes.
    • Rachel herself, not only for having no passcode on her phone, but more importantly the reason why: she almost crashed her car trying to unlock it.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The amount of incidents Rachel goes through in a single day all stems from a decision to sleep in, which causes her to run late in traffic. Her best client fires her, leaving her in dire financial straits. She runs afoul of a driver who proceeds to chase her around the city (having access to her tablet, which allows him to track her location). He financially and physically threatens her, then goes after her friends and family. Just when it seems like she may have escaped him, it's revealed that he's just been shot, not killed, and is still pursuing her, setting up a scenario where she must hold out with her son in their house against him until the cops arrive. And finally, she gets startled by another aggressive driver just after the Man is killed.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Rachel pulls over to the side of the road and visibly throws up after learning that the Man (non-fatally) set her brother Fred on fire.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Man has absolutely no qualms about giving Rachel vicious beatdowns when he gets his hands on her.

"You better bring your A-game. Because you’re going to need it."

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