Completely shot on an iPhone 7, this psychological thriller from director Steven Soderbergh is an interesting tactic in terms of its execution, but is hugely let down by a narrative that is easy to pick apart and far from riveting.
After landing a new job in Pennsylvania, Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) can’t shake the feeling her stalker is still around. She visits an institution to speak about her fears and demons and inadvertently winds up admitted into this mental facility. Within these walls she continues to see her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard), but is she to be believed or is she insane?
Well, I obviously won’t answer that because that will spoil the outcome but what I can say, is that the progress of the plot becomes more and more dumb. There are plot holes galore and how a certain character manages to gain freedom of movement without suspicion is insanity in itself. The writing pair of James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein have tried emulating some fraught, claustrophobic sense of horror akin to the wonder of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ from what I can tell, but it’s miles away from that captivating and concerning plight of hospital entrapment. Understandably, it’s unfair to compare this film to that Jack Nicholson feature, because this 2018 release is meant to be a B-movie of intimate proportions, but there’s frequent moments that take you out of the picture as you question what is happening, due to the lack of sense it presents.
The technical achievement is worthy of some credit, to have shot the entire film on a mobile device is impressive and adds some kind of personal madness to the story. It also shows that just about anyone can make a movie whatever the constraints but on the other hand, a name like Soderbergh goes a long way to get a film of this nature green-lit for cinematic release. I imagine if a student with an iPhone had written and directed the same thing, it wouldn’t have got anywhere, the power of his name helps sell a film that is otherwise a gimmicky lukewarm feature.
Aside from the issues the story throws up, I found myself very distant from the film thanks to the way it was shot. It’s as if the filmmakers want you to be immersed in a gritty narrative and believe the craziness on show, which would be fine within a fantasy filled genre but the way that ‘Unsane’ looks and is created with the phone camera; adds a realistic close up touch which deletes the suspension of disbelief you’d usually retain for fantastical movies and truly makes the latter half of this film, far-fetched and coldly distancing.
Foy does excel and is by and large the best thing going for this movie. She commits and gets under the skin as someone your mind sways back and forth with, concerning the notion of her mental state. She manages to make a character that I didn’t connect with someone that I still empathised with. Jay Pharoah as Nate brings a needed level of light relief to the plot and gets some good scenes with Sawyer. Juno Temple is the right choice for an unhinged patient and Temple makes sure that Violet is worrying to be around but every character around Foy are less than engaging and serve as little more than script help for Sawyer to get through the film.
I wasn’t expecting to write so much about this Soderbergh release beforehand, but after seeing it I had a lot on my mind about how poor the story is that I can’t shake that off. Foy is great. Everything else is irritatingly not.