Thoughts on “Unhinged”

The cover for “Unhinged” says “They all wanted a piece of her … some took too much!”. As far as I can tell, that has absolutely no relation to the plot of the movie whatsoever unless one gets into creative interpretations that would make the most imaginative literary arts graduate blush. But this is appropriate, because the movie itself doesn’t really seem to know what it’s supposed to be, to its detriment.

The actual plot — described on the back cover, oddly enough — is that four women heading to the wedding of one of them end up having to stop at a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, which contains a dark secret. Or, rather, not really. I mean, sure, there’s kinda a secret, but it’s not really a deep or dark one, and so most of that part really focuses around someone out to torture and kill the four women for some reason. The secret is ferreted out relatively quickly for that part of the movie … but then the stalking and killed also progresses relatively quickly once it starts. I’ve talked before multiple times about how mystery and suspense take time to develop, and this movie continues the trend of trying to humanize the characters to make us sympathize with them when, in general, we’re going to feel sympathy for four young and attractive women being stalked, tortured and killed for no real reason, which takes up a lot of the movie that could have been better spent building up the mystery.

On that note, there’s another subplot in the movie that ends up being stupid, pointless, and taking up time that could have been better used elsewhere. The four women, early in the movie, come across a man, whom the one who is getting married decides to help. He ends up stalking them, blocks their path in an out of the way place, and then attempts to attack and rape her. Her younger sister hits him with a rock and kills him. At that point, one of the other women screams that they should call the police, which they hysterically reject, which had me screaming “Call the ****ing police!” at the screen. While they seemed to be worried about being arrested and jailed, telling the police what happened was almost certainly going to result in them getting let go, at least eventually, because four young women saying “He attacked and tried to rape us!” is likely to be believed given the situation and the fact that the guy was kinda creepy, and his even being there works against any other explanation (because they would have had to lure him there somehow otherwise, since them both just happening to be there is way too much of a coincidence). But, fine, they were freaked out and panicked. Fine.

The next scene, they’re tossing him into the trunk of a car. “Oh, good,” I thought. “They’ll dump him in his trunk, move his car back into the corn or woods or whatever it is that’s on the side of the road, and drive away. By the time anyone finds him, they’ll be long gone and no one will be able to find them and blame them for the murder.” Except they later reveal that they dumped him … in the trunk of their car. Huh? That makes no sense. They had to move his car anyway, and it was already in the middle of nowhere. Why take the body with them?

Now, we could forgive it if it was necessary to advance the plot. But the corpse isn’t really used in the plot at all. At one point, the body and the woman’s wedding dress disappear, which could have been used to make us think that the person trying to kill them was him … except that they already had a previous scene making it clear that the person was well-known to the sole occupant of the house, and so couldn’t be him unless they wanted to do something odd with that set-up. Given the big “reveal”, we were sure that the killer was related to the woman in the house and wasn’t the corpse. And yet, later, the soon-to-be married woman finds the corpse and acts shocked and horrified … of what was in her trunk for many hours. This leads me to believe that he was originally supposed to be a red herring that we were supposed to believe was the murderer, but the final cut loses any semblance of that making any sense. Given that, the entire sequence really should just have been cut out entirely to give more time to focus on the murders themselves.

In fact, I would have cut the entire thing down to bare bones and stretched it out over a few more days. The original presentation was that they were on their way to the wedding. I would, instead, have had them on their way to a hen-do or a spa trip before the wedding itself happened as a way to bond or whatever. That way, instead of them already being late but having to wait for days for the “gardener” and yet not panicking about that, they could have ended up having to stay there and bond instead. Then, the killer could, instead of killing at least one of them immediately and torturing and killing another one over a slightly longer time, could have aimed to capture all of them over time and torture them slowly over a period of time. Given that, I might not have actually killed any of them, and the slow disappearance of everyone coupled with the shock of finding them all in the clutches of the killer could have provided everything the original plot did, but with much more room for mystery and suspense than they had in the movie … and even those personal stories would have seemed less grinding and pointless if they were the foreground shading the background of the killer that might be coming after them. If the audience knew about the oddity but the women didn’t, that would make all of that all that much creepier.

And here I’d like to talk about something that came to me while watching the movie about the difference between supernatural horrors and “natural” ones like slashers and stalkers. This horror was a natural one, but most of the movies I’ve been watching have featured supernatural ones. There’s an advantage to a natural horror as opposed to a supernatural one, in that you don’t need to do very much to explain the nature of the threat or its motivations. Motivations for natural killers are pretty well-known, and so it is easy to generate a simple backstory that can provide the insanity for your villain and let you get on with the movie. This is what this movie does, using the backstory of infidelity and murder to produce the villain. However, the downside to using natural horrors is that you aren’t as free to do things with them as you are with supernatural horrors. Natural horrors have to follow the rules, and so can’t pull off conveniences to surprise and kill the victims. We can accept, for example, Jason being able to always appear right in front of the victim despite generally walking very slowly due to his supernatural nature and abilities, and we can accept the odd and creative ways Freddy kills his victims because it’s all a dream anyway and anything can happen in dreams. That doesn’t work for a strict natural stalker, and if you break or even bend the rules too obviously you’ll get the audience rolling their eyes at catching you at it, which is not what you want in a horror movie. “Unhinged” manages to avoid doing that, for the most part, and so doesn’t fail at that level, at least.

At the end of the day, “Unhinged” is not a bad movie. It moves relatively well and only drags in some parts with the personal stories that add little to it. It took up an hour and a half without really boring me, but that’s about the best you can say for it. It’s not a good movie, doesn’t hold together, and doesn’t really scare, creep out, or disgust me. It’s just … there. That’s consistent with how a lot of these movies end up, but surely we can do better than that.


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