After a long period of closed movie theatres being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Unhinged” provides a much-needed thriller release showing the dark side of humanity.
The film, directed by Derrick Borte, stars Russell Crowe as Tom Cooper, a mentally unstable man attempting suicide by cop by going on a massive killing spree who crosses paths with Rachel Hunter, played by Caren Pistorius, a recently divorced mother to son Kyle who after a minor incident at a traffic light becomes embroiled in the rage and madness of Cooper’s rampage. After Hunter honks her horn at Cooper when he absentmindedly waits too long at a stop light, Cooper confronts her demanding an apology. The argument turns into a violent chase over the highway, causing myriad destruction typical of action films. Hunter is thankfully able to escape and go about her day, but this is not the last we see of Cooper’s rampage or his new hunt to end Hunter. Before she escaped, Cooper stole Hunter’s phone and snooped in her day planner to find out where she was going after dropping her son off at school. He goes to her friend Andy and murders him. As the film progresses, Cooper attacks more and more of Hunter’s loved ones in an attempt to continue his killing spree and also to further terrorize Hunter.
Like many films that feature mentally unstable, or dare I say “crazy,” villains, the film dredges up the ethical issues of such a choice in filmmaking: is it ethical to portray mental illness as inherently evil? One argument purports that while there is nothing wrong with being mentally ill, having a plethora of villains and adversaries in media whose defining feature is that they are mentally ill is problematic and can lead to the perception in popular culture that the two are equal. Another side to this issue states that films like these that depict mental illness as a central feature can often be educational and encourage people who feel similarly to characters on screen to seek healthcare and therapy.
It should be noted that neither side can be proven right or wrong due to the complex nature of such a question. A study on the effects of mental health portrayals on perception of mental health cannot be properly quantified to the degree of certainty but there are general trends that should be obvious. Mental health is not taken seriously, and this movie is part of the problem. It treats the person experiencing mental illness as the problem and even equates all mental illness with homicidal rampages which is patently ridiculous. A good example of movies like this and their effect on the perception of mental illness has to do with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia patients are often portrayed as incredibly violent or as caricatures who speak to multiple personalities or hallucinations (even though multiple personalities are not actually a recognized symptom of schizophrenia), and yet, schizophrenia patients are largely non-violent and non-criminal. Simply put, it is good for business to portray mental illness as a horror show on society to create tension rather than portray the reality of the situation because most people don’t know any different.
Ultimately, “Unhinged” is your typical thriller and with movie theatres beginning to open again after the long period of being closed, it will probably be an addition to anyone’s movie night. One just needs to be aware of the problematic nature of the film’s portrayal of people with mental illness. “Unhinged” receives a B-minus rating.