Oh come on, we’ve been in lockdown since March, I’m allowed a pun.
Note: This is very spoilery so if you don’t want to know who dies, or how, drive off into the sunset now, with your doors firmly locked. If you want to read my – yes, four star – review, it’s here.
A world as angry and violent as ours pushes us further into our cars, giving us the impression we are sealed off from everything going on outside. But then look what happens!
I think Unhinged has some interesting (but not new) things to say along the way about how isolation and insecurity feeds rage in our society, though I don’t think that’s the point of the film. It really is just a grimy, nervy thriller that will entertain you, scare you and quite possibly result in you allowing more people to merge in ahead of you in traffic queues.
I said in my review that Unhinged was a mix of old and new: bystanders refusing to get involved to help someone, but instead filming the attack.
The theory that people refuse, when part of a crowd, to help goes back to the 1960s – though the tendency to record and upload rather than give assistance, or indeed call the police, must be a recent phenomenon. The Bystander Effect suggests that the more people are watching someone in distress, the less likelihood anyone will intervene, though it has been debunked since.
Whether true or not in the real world, you see it in action in Unhinged. At the diner, the many other customers do nothing to help when Cooper taunts, attacks then kills Rachel’s friend and lawyer Andy (Jimmi Simpson). But at a petrol station, where there’s only an older woman and a young guy, he does something.
Rachel spies Cooper’s truck again while she’s paying for petrol. Stuck in the shop she’s scared to go outside, so the young man offers to walk her to her car. He gets her there safely and says a few words to Cooper; Rachel drives off. Cooper then drives into the young man, throwing him into the air, and he’s then hit by another car and killed. So you can see why people don’t want to help – plus a recording of a murder may, in time, be useful. (It’s interesting that it’s the young, hoodie-wearing man who steps forward to help Rachel out, a demographic which tends to be blamed for everything.)
Cooper’s victims are selected by virtue of their connection to Rachel, but the murders are random in method, which gives Unhinged the seedy air of a film created to deliver lots of horribly violent murders rather than to tell us anything.
Before Cooper even meets Rachel, he kills his ex and her new partner with an axe. He bashes Andy in the diner, then stabs him with a knife; he runs over Petrol Station Guy; he stabs Mary (the fiancee of Rachel’s brother Fred) to death but then tapes Fred to a chair, surrounds him with lighter fluid and makes him write a letter to Rachel. The letter blames her for his upcoming death and he has to read it out to his sister over the phone. (The police arrive in the nick of time, and Cooper pushes the chair towards the police and lights the fuel. Though Fred catches fire, he survives.)
Eventually Rachel has to step up, use her own knowledge and fight back, as a massive pile-up that Cooper has caused means that all the police are helping out there. I loved her tiny smile of triumph when she gets to the complex network of roads around her mum’s house, where she quickly loses him. She makes it to the house and Kyle goes inside to send a silent alarm call to the police. Meanwhile Rachel checks her bag for possible weapons (she’s a hair stylist) and the garage for golf clubs. When Cooper finally catches up with her she uses her mum’s car to ram his. They fight and she’s left injured on the ground while Cooper heads into the house to find and kill Kyle.
Rachel manages to get up and follows him in; they fight, and he hits her and pushes her onto the bed, then starts strangling Kyle. Rachel manages to get up and stabs him in the eye with her candy cane scissors. Naturally he roars back to life, but she kicks him in the eye, pushing the scissors into his brain and he finally dies, while she shouts “HERE’S YOUR FUCKING COURTESY TAP!” (This is a reference to Cooper’s lecturing her when they first “met”, about using her horn for a courtesy tap rather than pressing it down over and over to get him to move his truck.)
The police arrive, and tell her that her brother survived the attack and will recover. She and Kyle drive off to visit him at the hospital. Crossing an intersection, another car drives across her. She’s about to beep her horn when she stops. “Good choice” says Kyle, who will probably be asking to take the school bus in future.
By the way, I always go down a google rabbit hole after watching the movies I review. This time it wasn’t talking animals (The One And Only Ivan), WW2 Atlantic convoys (Greyhound) or lesbian bars in 1920s London (Summerland), but… candy cane scissors – which are for cutting ribbon and wrapping paper, not, it turns out, for cutting candy canes. That was just Fred’s little joke (and to think I cared what happened to you, Fred.)