“Unhinged” (2020) Movie Review

Unbridled blunt force carnage. Academy Award winner Russell Crowe’s rampage-filled Unhinged hits theatres this weekend. And if you’re in the mood for a throwback B-movie well-suited for the indoor big screen or a drive-in theatre, then hop in the driver’s seat. Unhinged is the kind of movie that is so bad yet is actually a lot of fun–the one time you will ever watch it anyway. There are really only two acts in this movie; the rushed setup with an attempt to attach some deeper meaning to the gnarly violence that starts immediately and the lengthy showdown. But you won’t care that it’s a shallow, vapid plot; you are there for three reasons (1) to see Crowe go absolutely bonkers (2) the unhinged brutal, cringy no-holds-barred violence and (3) the scarily realistic car chases through this unnamed city in this unnamed state only known as America’s Heartland. The manner in which The Man stalks Rachel (and later, her son) reminds me of the same pattern of actions we get in many horror movies. While this movie is not a genre horror movie, it is very much horror-adjacent. Moreover, this horror-adjacent movie nearly follows the same tropes as a slasher. Slasher? That’s right. And get this–I found this particularly interesting–Russell Crowe’s lumpy misogynist is credited only as The Man, and where have we seen such a vague, anonymous description of a character before? John Carpenter’s original Halloween with Michael Myers being credited as The Shape. When viewed as a horror-adjacent movie, you will likely enjoy it more. The fact that we are never told much about The Man’s motivations, makes his over-the-top kills, his look, and his barbaric behavior incredibly campy. It’s this level of camp that makes the movie serviceable, and even fun during the violence and high-impact car chases; one could say the car chases are fast and furious. Director Derrick Borte delivers a guilty pleasure action-thriller that is sure to keep you entertained for its relatively short fun time. He knows precisely what kind of movie he’s direction, and rocks it! And you now what, it looks like the director and Crowe has a fun time making this schlock fest. Even actors of Crowe’s repute need a cathartic movie every now and again.

Unhinged is a horror adjacent action-thriller that is built upon something we have all experienced–road rage. Only, this story takes everything you have ever feared about what could happen after you honk your horn to bizarrely unpredictable levels culminating in a terrifying conclusion. Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is running late taking her son to school when she meets The Man (Crowe) at a red light. When the light turns green, he sits there. After she lays on the horn a few times, races past him, and gives him that look, you now the one (as we’ve all done it), she finds herself and everyone she loves the target of a man whom, in his own words, feels invisible and is looking to leave his mark on the lives of those whom dismiss him, in deadly games of cat and mouse.

The movie starts with a stylistic montage depicting violence in the streets of America, particularly road rage. Incidentally, this movie seems to have predicted the current and recent outburst of violence in the streets, months prior. So for some, these images may hit a little too close to home. Or perhaps they will be a wakeup call for how we treat one another, because you never really know if the person standing next to you is about to go over the edge because of continued brushes with trauma. Often times, an opening montage such as this one is used to prime the pump, if you will, in order to setup social commentary or other existential critique on the events that are about to unfold. Unfortunately, this setup really goes nowhere, except to remind us that we really never know next to whom we are standing, or sitting in your car. Early on in the film, just before the deadly cat and mouse road rage game sets into full motion, The Man comments that (and I am paraphrasing), “people nowadays feel as though they should ever have to apologize to anyone for anything.” And perhaps there is a nugget of truth in that because apologies do seem to be fewer in number than they used to be. Newsflash: sometimes we are wrong or have wronged someone else, be it intentional or unintentional. So, apologies and forgiveness should be in our arsenal before grudges and rage.

Talk about bloody. This movie sets the bar ridiculously high with its opening scene of The Man obliterating his axe wife, her lover, followed by torching the house. But the bar doesn’t stop there; the ante literally keeps going up. This man displays the most extreme forms of sociopathy, and he is virtually unstoppable, just like a classic horror slasher in the vein of Michael or Jason. Perhaps he isn’t lurking in the shadows, isn’t wearing a mask, doesn’t have a trademark weapon, or doesn’t come with catchy music, but he is still a slasher! Even when he is shot, he keeps going. And is always right on the bumper of Rachel. While you will likely not care about ANY of the characters in this movie, you will enjoy the campy slasherness of The Man. Unfortunately, The Man also doesn’t give us any reason to root for him, as is the case with Michael, Freddy, or Jason. The Man is a disgusting representation of toxicity of every kind. But, he does know how to put on a show for the audience.

Word to the wise, should you encounter a vehicle sitting at an intersection when the light turns green, I wouldn’t honk your horn. If you do, then you may unleash a sociopath that will literally stop at nothing until you apologize.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” (2020) Horror Short Film Review

Tell-tale signs of outstanding cinematic talent right here! I don’t often choose to write a formal review of short films for which I receive screeners. Usually, I Tweet my thoughts on the film when I receive a request from an eager filmmaker who’s interested in what Professor Horror, as I’ve come to be known on #FilmTwitter, has to say about his or her motion picture endeavor. Writer-Director McClain Lindquist crafts a wholly original expression of the familiar macabre tale. While there have been many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this is arguably one of the best and freshest interpretations of the masterful storytelling of Poe. I appreciate this adaptation for its fresh take on a familiar story whilst delivering the visceral horror and intellectually-driven elements of the bizarre tale of murder. Every nuance of Poe’s short story is depicted with sheer reverence for the source material, while delivering an original expression of the timeless literary work.

Lindquist reimagines this story through the lens of a David Lynchian approach (with the color pallet of David Fincher), delivering vibes of Muholland Drive. While there are clearly some cracks in the veneer related to the time period in which this story takes place, these cracks are insignificant enough not to detract from the overall cinematic experience. Lindquist should have selected either a modern or gothic period in which to set his adaptation. Actor Sonny Grimsley (what a great last name for horror) not only brings the words of The Narrator to the screen, but he talks to the audience with such incredible sincerity that the utter madness of it all is visualized beautifully. One of the points I hammer in my screenwriting class is dramatize don’t tell. Dramatizing means more than showing the audience the story, it means finding the conflict in every beat of every scene. Fortunately for this adaptation, Grimsley brilliantly dramatizes every word spoken in such a manner that you will be completely enveloped in the twisted tale to which he beckons you to listen.

Both the cinematography and stylistic editing are on point, and compliment the tone wonderfully. Although there are a number of standout moments from the film, I want to highlight how the duality of the narrator was expressed dramatically through the use of costuming and set design as well as a mirror. It would be all too easy for The Narrator to express his duality through verbal exposition (as this is taken from a short story), but the creative choice to couple the words of Poe with these striking images shows a strong knowledge of how to effectively go from page to screen. Often short films suffer from poorly executed technical elements, but I am pleased to report that all technical elements demonstrate an exemplary understanding of the art and science of cinematic storytelling. In addition to the technical elements is the haunting and unsettling score by Joel Pack. Lacking a true score is all too commonplace in many short films; not so with Lindquists’s The Tell-Tale Heart, Pack’s score is a character in and of itself. However, it never steals the scene, which allows the audience to become fully wrapped up in everything The Narrator says and does. I love seeing practical effects in all films, but especially horror. Thankfully, there are plenty of gruesome special makeup effects in this film for even the most insatiable appetite for gore, which never falling into the gratuitous category.

Lindquist certainly knows how to capture the madness in The Tell-Tale Heart. In many of Poe’s works, madness is often represented a lack of sufficient reasoning for committing murder or some other undesirable behavior. Lindquist illustrates The Narrator’s madness through the unreasonable rationale he uses to justify the murder of his roommate. Not only do we hear about the attempt at rationalization, it is dramatized for the screen. The only reason the narrator provides, in an attempt to justify the murder, is the simple fact that the roommate’s blind eye covered with a murky blue film bothers him a great deal–haunts him, even. He goes onto explain that he feels that he is being watched all the time. Being angered by the man’s eye is such a petty reason for the narrator to murder him, which proves that he is mentally unstable. Developing his plan for over a week, his madness is further represented through the meticulous premeditation of the method of murder. Furthermore, when The Narrator initially proposes that the “vulture eye” is his motive for murdering his roommate, he is not even fully certain that this was indeed his reason for committing the murder. And through the direction of Lindquist and the impeccable performance by Grimsley, we get into the mind of a madman in terrifying ways that are sure to induce nightmares.

Lindquist’s The Tell-Tale Heart is evidence of a future successful career as a horror filmmaker. I am eager to follow his filmography as he will hopefully use this short film as a springboard to write and direct original content, because we need more original storytellers in this sea of remakes and reboots.

The Tell-Tale Heart plans to release on select streaming platforms Fall 2020. Checkout the trailer!

  • Director: McClain Lindquist
  • Cinematographer: Joseph Olivas
  • Editors: Joel Petrie & Raymund Delmar
  • Sound Effects: Jacob Proctor
  • Makeup Effects: Ambira Powell
  • Music: Joel Pack

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Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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