Unsane – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Review Summary:

Unsane is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Claire Foy as Sawyer, a young woman recovering from a traumatic experience, who finds herself admitted to a mental institution against her will. While trying to figure out how to escape, that past trauma creeps back into her life. No, this is not gratefully not a remake of Dario Argento’s film.

As you’ve likely heard from every review or article published about this film, Soderbergh shot the whole thing with an iPhone 7 plus, utilizing the Filmic Pro App and three Moment lenses: 18mm, 60mm, and a fisheye. Soderbergh has stated he thinks most audience members won’t notice, and that this is the future of movies.

Let’s stow that debate for a second and focus on the story. Claire Foy is stunning throughout the 97 minute runtime, bringing a sense of unease and paranoia in virtually every scene. As we unfold her past, and see the connections to her current predicament, Unsane gets considerably more captivating.

Also great is Joshua Leonard as an orderly at the institution with sinister motives. Of the three stars of The Blair Witch Project, he’s had the most success, however he’s been relegated to mostly horror B-movies, so it’s nice to see him given a meaty role.

Like most films about mental institutions—especially ones featuring unwilling patients—there’s a sense of frustration that develops as Sawyer is never heard, shut down constantly and ignored by everyone around her. Soderbergh tries to generate a sense of uncertainly surrounding her sanity, and the film’s marketing campaign even asks the question, “Is she or isn’t she?”

But at least for me, this mystery didn’t seem all that confusing, and what eventually unravels felt more like a natural progression than a fascinating turn of events. Sawyer’s mistreatment and the actions of those around her all point to one possible outcome, so the film rarely surprised me.

Her discussions with fellow patients almost always ended the same, in a slap or some violent action that only makes Sawyer look more insane, and after awhile, I became irritated with how she handled these situations. It was like watching someone try to climb out of a hole, while simultaneously digging themselves in deeper.

So back to the cinematography. When a filmmaker in Soderbergh’s position makes a choice like this, I look for logical reasons why. If you’re a no budget filmmaker, the decision to use an iPhone makes sense, but what about this film needed this?

The best this choice does is create a personal look to the film. Slightly documentary-esque. There’s an aura of schlocky cheapness to it that can sometimes make it more frightening.

But Soderbergh’s claim that no one will notice is ludicrous. The 1.56 aspect ratio, the overblown highlights in the color spectrum, and even the jittery dolly shots are noticeable to anyone who’s ever made a short film before. The images are mostly flat, with little depth, coming off more like high quality security camera footage than something cinematic.

Soderbergh is a phenomenal director, but when you’re at the place he is in his career, this choice seems more like a way to get him excited about directing again, and less of a technical option that actually benefits the story being told.

Still, there’s enough tension and dread present in Unsane and certainly in the brilliant work from Claire Foy to recommend it, and Soderbergh is always an engaging director, even when his films are a little unremarkable.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: B-

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references

Run Time: 98 min

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