Steven Soderbergh's Unsane is a nerve-wrecking thriller that ups the paranoia and claustrophobia thanks to its iPhone-shot approach. It's not perfect or always needed, but it gives the film a unique set of vibes that will keep you engaged from start-to-finish.
“Retired” director Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky) is back yet again with another unorthodox film experience, titled Unsane. The film’s plot sounds familiar, a victim of stalking that goes in for a mental health checkup and soon realizes that she’s been involuntarily locked up. Things only get worse as she starts to see her stalker appear as a worker at the hospital. What makes this film even more bizarre is Soderbergh’s dedication to shoot the film entirely on an iPhone, which gives it a gritty and claustrophobic visual structure that’s accompanied by narrow sounds and dark lighting. Unsane is an unsettling dose of nerves and paranoia, laced with a little social commentary for good measures. Do you have what it takes to swallow the pill?
As previously mentioned, Unsane follows Sawyer (Claire Foy) as she has troubles transitioning in her day-to-day life after a move caused by a serious stalker. She’s changed her address and phone number and moved away from friends and family. Life isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows for her as she suspects her stalker is never too close behind.
One day, she goes in for what she thought was an honest mental evaluation or a place to air out some stuff on her mind and suddenly she finds her self locked up in a mental institution against her will.
She pleads with the nurses and doctors to let her go, but soon finds out that this sort of treatment is not uncommon. Hospitals need to meet quotas, so they snatch up mostly innocent people and lock them up until their insurance companies stop footing the bills.
This unique spin on an otherwise procedural thriller is eye-opening and disturbing, revealing an ugly side of America’s health world that I hope is not true. Soderbergh picks and pokes at the helplessness of the patients and the all-encompassing power of the hospital and their staff.
That alone is enough to send chills up the spine, but Soderbergh takes it a step further and follows Sawyer’s possible delusions or possible truths as she soon recognizes a member of the hospital staff as the very man that stalked her for nearly two years.
Now, Sawyer is battling not only her own wits, but the hospital staff and other patients as she attempts to unravel the truth behind this man and the key to her head.
Is she insane? Is she really seeing this guy or is it all made up in her head?
Director Steven Soderbergh does a great job dancing around these questions and giving the audiences responses that will stimulate your mind and make you squirm in your seat.
Shooting the entire film on an iPhone definitely gives it a distinct look that sometimes works wonders and sometimes becomes an annoying eyesore. The visual approach works best when Sawyer is navigating the dark and narrow corridors of the hospital hallways or even sitting alone at lunch, with a zoomed up camera attached to her head, but slowly pulling back to reveal those around her.
It really does make you get a sense of the space around her and the over-the-shoulder feel of her everyday life. It’s essentially a more effective way of capturing a POV approach without going full-on. It’s less restrictive and allows for more visual flare.
Now, the film’s video compression takes a hit and some of the more colorful and planned out sequences feel a little dull and boring, but perhaps Soderbergh wanted you to feel every bit as confused and ugly as Sawyer?
The audio also feels isolated and remote, which adds to the creepy effects of the film’s presentation.
These techniques, combined with Claire Foy‘s performance help drive Unsane past the point of being just another silly thriller. Unsane looks and feels just as unique as its writing and performances.
Some might bicker about the ending, but I thought it was absolutely perfect, closing most of the doors, yet still leaving a little mystery for those wanting more.
Unsane isn’t Soderbergh’s best or most unique film, but it’s one that shows his ability to adapt and dive into the unknown. He’s always growing and challenging himself as a filmmaker, which is one of the many reasons why I love watching his films.
Not one Soderbergh film is the same as the last, minus maybe his Ocean’s trilogy, which sort of had to feel similar. The rest of his work always speaks independently and Unsane is no different.
Those that stumble upon this one theatrically are going to be in for a real treat. Unsane is the type of film that would normally skip theaters and go straight to Netflix or Hulu and yet here we are with a chance to see something unique and creepy on the big screen, where it shines the brightest and takes advantage of the dark room full of strangers.