Directed by: Steven Soderbergh | 98 minutes | horror, thriller | Actors: Claire Foy, Jay Pharaoh, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Sarah Stiles, Colin Woodell, Lynda Mauze, Zach Cherry, Polly McKie, Raúl Castillo, Michael Mihm, Erin Wilhelmi
A cinema movie filmed entirely with an iPhone. A daring step for renowned director Steven Soderbergh, best known to the general public for the ‘Oceans’ film, and just before ‘Unsane’ responsible for the entertaining heist film ‘Logan Lucky’. Although the choice to opt for this film style certainly shows courage, Soderbergh unfortunately does not follow through with that daring in ‘Unsane’.
‘Unsane’ evokes a strong voyeuristic feeling from the first minute. We follow Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), who is haunted by neuroses and anxiety attacks caused by some traumatic experiences with a stalker. When a Tinder date turns into yet another panic attack, Sawyer (high in the category of oddly chosen movie character names) decides to seek help and consult a psychiatric center. After venting her heart out, Sawyer is asked by the psychiatrist to briefly participate in some tests, after which she is admitted to the clinic to her own surprise. Sawyer learns from her only normal roommate Nate (a strong role of Jay Pharoah) that insured patients are deliberately admitted against their will to keep the clinic profitable. As soon as the insurance money is used up, the patients are then declared ‘healthy’. And as if the forced admission wasn’t enough, Sawyer thinks she recognizes her stalker in one of the doctors, which only increases her paranoia.
‘Unsane’ works very well, especially in the first hour. Soderbergh constantly evokes a strongly claustrophobic atmosphere and knows how to capture the paranoia Sawyer confronts very well. This is largely due to Claire Foy, who under Soderbergh gets the chance to completely shake off her aristocratic appearance as Queen Elizabeth from “The Crown”. Foy knows how to keep her complex character accessible and ensures that the viewer continues to live with her.
Still, Foy cannot prevent the film from losing some of its strength in the last part. The feeling of paranoia that characterizes the first hour of ‘Unsane’ is pushed into the background by Soderbergh, and towards the end the film turns more and more into a somewhat simple B-thriller. And that is a shame, especially because Soderbergh portrays his main character so cleverly ambivalent in the first hour. Because even the viewer does not initially know what reality is and what is going on in Sawyers’ head. In the final part of the film, Soderbergh seems to mainly want to satisfy his audience by giving as many answers as possible, which makes the film less attractive and less close to your skin. It would have been courageous if Soderbergh had dared to delve even deeper into Sawyer’s psyche, instead of opting for the slightly too safe road. At first Soderbergh plays cleverly with the boundary between perception and reality, but as soon as this boundary fades, ‘Unsane’ becomes less interesting. What also does not help is that the stalker (Joshua Leonard) becomes more and more a caricature towards the end and too strongly conforms to the laws of the thriller genre. Leonard’s acting is also not consistent enough to impress throughout the film. What also does not help is that the stalker (Joshua Leonard) becomes more and more a caricature towards the end and too strongly conforms to the laws of the thriller genre. Leonard’s acting is also not consistent enough to impress throughout the film. What also does not help is that the stalker (Joshua Leonard) becomes more and more a caricature towards the end and too strongly conforms to the laws of the thriller genre. Leonard’s acting is also not consistent enough to impress throughout the film.
Steven Soderbergh has largely succeeded in making an oppressive and strongly claustrophobic thriller. The choice to film ‘Unsane’ entirely with an iPhone works out quite well and reinforces the alienating effect of Sawyer’s environment. A bit more daring would not have hurt ‘Unsane’ and the film will certainly become too lazy towards the end. The obligatory flashbacks (including a curious and little-adding cameo from one of Soderbergh’s regular actors) might have been omitted. Between the lines, Soderbergh still criticizes American greed and the bizarre healthcare system, but it never gets more than a few casual pinpricks. The main asset of the film is especially Claire Foy, who once again proves to be one of the most talented actresses of the moment with this role.