Release Date: March 23, 2018
Director: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Steven Soderbergh’s release schedule is, by now, routine. He very rarely releases a true dud, but every other film does suffer from a collapsing third act that spoils an otherwise-enjoyable experience. I wish Unsane was on the level of Magic Mike, Behind the Candelabra, or Contagion, but unfortunately it falters like Haywire and Side Effects, leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth as you leave the theater.
The film stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini, a businesswoman of some variety (though it’s never precisely stated) who has just moved from Boston to Philadelphia due to a stalker. She tries to be good at her job but can’t beat the feeling that her boss is looking for more than a good employee. She tries to go out and find a one-night stand through Tinder, but her psyche still hasn’t gotten over the stalking.
So, she goes to a mental facility to talk to a counsellor and proceeds to enter every mentally ill person’s nightmare. She’s held there against her will with a bunch of really crazy people, which proceeds to make her wonder if she’s really as crazy as they all are. Things keep descending at the hospital to less and less believable levels until the film grinds to a halt and finishes with an incredibly off-tone finale.
Unsane offers some compelling content despite its narrative issues. Firstly, like Sean Baker’s Tangerine, it has been shot entirely on a iPhone and tries to use the specific qualities of the iPhone to its advantage. The way scenes use deep and soft focus feels explicitly digital, using the aesthetics of Instagram and snapchat to provoke an incredible degree of uncanny anxiety.
More importantly though is Claire Foy’s performance as the questionably unstable heroine. Foy opens her role with the kind of subtly forced normalcy that people dealing with trauma have to perform, but, as her situation deteriorates, so does the layers of performance that she uses to hide her capabilities.
There is a moment in the film where she has realized the power of her performance and uses a deliberate switch from timid and docile to hostile and cruel to a truly unsettling effect. This is the kind of genre performance that never receives the accolades it deserves, but by the end of the year we should be continuing to celebrate this role even if the film falls short on a few fronts.
It really is too bad that the final half hour of the film cannot live up to its potential. While the ending of Side Effects simply felt underwritten, the ending of Unsane feels like Soderbergh wanted to reapply the montages from Contagion for a political purpose that the rest of the film had already delivered on. Nevertheless, for its formal qualities and Claire Foy’s performance, I hope people give this film a chance.