Unsane

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard.

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“Seriously, mom. I keep telling them I’m the Queen of England but they refuse to let me out.”

Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is a young woman who’s recently moved cities to take a new job. This has taken her away from friends and her mother Angela (Amy Irving). Sawyer’s supposed reason for moving is that the job was too good to turn down, but what her mother doesn’t realise is that Sawyer actually moved because she was being harassed by a stalker named David Strine (Leonard).

After a panic attack Sawyer seeks help from a support group at a local hospital that specialises in helping victims of harassment. During a meeting with a counsellor she admits to sometimes having suicidal thoughts, and when given papers to sign to inadvertently commits herself to the psychiatric ward for 24-hours. Despite trying to back out, and even calling the police, she isn’t able to leave the hospital, and after a violent run in with a fellow patient named Violet (Juno Temple) her 24-hour stay is extended to seven days.

She finds an ally in a man named Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharaoh) who’s in the hospital recovering from drug addiction. He lends her his contraband phone and Sawyer is able to call her mother. Despite Angela’s arrival, getting her out of the hospital still proves difficult, and Sawyer has to face up to the fact that she’ll have to stay in for the full seven days, but things take a dark turn when one of the orderlies appears to be her stalker…or is he? Confused, and increasingly paranoid, is Sawyer imagining the presence of Strine in the hospital, or is she trapped in a building with a man who’s obsessed with her, and will do anything to posses her, even resort to murder?

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“Look all I’m saying is, maybe ease up on the Queen of England thing…”

Shot on an iPhone 7, Steven (didn’t you retire?) Soderbergh’s Unsane is a queasy, stripped back B-Movie that provides a showcase for Claire Foy to demonstrate that she can do much, much more than just play Queen Elizabeth II.

In almost every scene Foy is superb, and I suspect the film wouldn’t be half as good without her in the lead role. At times incredibly fragile, at times extremely resilient, she breathes life into a character who could have been just another stock final girl style heroine. Instead she wrings every last bit of character from the script, making Sawyer someone we can root for, whilst also making her seem real—she isn’t always the nicest of people, she’s manipulative when she has to be, and emotionally distant, using a dark sense of humour to spar with her co-workers (understandable given what she’d been through, but still a brave choice to not make her innately likable).

The decision to film on an iPhone allows Soderbergh to give Sawyer’s experiences an extra twist of the surreal. Foy and other actors are often viewed in closeup, adding to the sense of claustrophobia, and the iPhone lens further skews the images, adding to the Kafkaesque nightmare Sawyer finds herself in. In particular a scene where Sawyer is drugged is incredibly well shot to give us a glimpse into how disorientated Sawyer is.

I’ve never been a huge Soderbergh fan, though I’m not sure I could tell you why aside from the fact that his films always feel a trifle clinical, and despite the emotional intensity of Unsane it has that same, somewhat detached feel about it, but for the first two thirds of the film Soderbergh does a great job of discombobulating the viewer. Unfortunately in the third act things take a downward turn and the film becomes far more predictable. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for several elements that seem way too similar to a certain Stephen King adaptation to be coincidental, and these especially jarred, as did the inexplicable cameo appearance of a big name actor, which only served to pull me out of the story and remind me that I was watching a film.

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As a stripped down, exploitation horror/thriller Unsane works well due to its decent cast and inventive cinematography, and you have to admire a B-movie that actually has something meaningful to say about the American healthcare system, it’s just a shame the more intriguing and nuanced elements are pushed aside when the film reveals all and from then on treads a very well worn path.

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