Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharaoh, Juno Temple, and Amy Irving.
Having relocated to the city for her new job, Sawyer (Claire Foy) visits a mental health institution in order to have someone to talk to about her feelings, but before she knows it, is voluntarily committed and placed on a ward where she has to convince people she’s not insane.
Steven Soderbergh has always had a predilection for employing low-fi filmmaking techniques, having used hand-held cameras for Haywire and Contagion, and now he’s following in the footsteps of Sean Baker’s Tangerine, by filming Unsane on the iPhone. However, that’s not the most forward thinking aspect of this effective exercise in B-Movie thrills.
One of the first films to be produced in the wake of the MeToo and TimesUp movements; Unsane uses this landscape as a foundation upon which to tell a tale about repeatedly dismissing a woman’s story as insanity, and the emotional toll it takes on someone who feels increasingly isolated by a system that chooses to ignore them, or rush to judgement. It’s fair to say that this is as relevant a piece of filmmaking, as it is just straight up thriller.
When it comes to the latter, Soderbergh’s decision to shoot on a mobile phone pays off stylistically. The voyeuristic nature of shots framed as if a POV, or the off-kilter close-ups, give Unsane a claustrophobic, unsettling vibe that works in tandem with the way the story unfolds.
The fresh from retirement director also uses some nifty techniques with which to play with your perception of what’s real or not, to make even the viewer doubt the reliability of Sawyer’s mental state. There are a lot of reflective surfaces, most notably during a driving scene in which Foy can be viewed in multiple mirrored panels, planting the seed of a fractured personality for a character we know very little about. Add to that the feedback on some character dialogue, and the buzzing of luminous lights, and the film starts to become insidiously creepy.
Of course, none of it would work without Claire Foy, casting off her regal dresses for pumps, pyjamas, and a performance of wide-eyed intensity. She feels so real, with histrionics justified, and her occasional bursts of violence quite distressing. Running the full gamut of emotions, it’s a turn of Linda Hamilton in Pescadaro State Hospital brilliance.
The performances around her are also good – SNL’s Jay Pharaoh, The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard, and Juno Temple – but to reveal why might veer into spoiler territory.
The ending is perhaps bogged down by an adherence to formula, with a padded cell finale that’s just a little drawn out, before evolving into something all-too-generic considering the steady hand subtlety of the previous hour. These are minor quibbles though, because Unsane remains a timely little gut-punch piece of entertainment, all fronted by an outstanding Foy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★