Our main character is Sawyer Valentini (Foy)- I love that name- a 30-something who left her home in Boston, dashing off to Pittsburgh for a remedial job as a data-analyst. She eats lunch alone, talks to her distant mother (Amy Irving) via FacetTime, her gross boss makes sexual advances at her, customers annoy her, and cruises the Tinder-sites to find someone that might offer brief comfort. One lonely night she hooks up with a suitor, but has a paranoid freak out moments before anything progresses further. The following day she visits Highland Creek for a brief therapy session, revealing her fears about a man who stalked her years ago named David Strine (Joshua Leonard). Ripe with rational fears and anxieties, Sawyer is tricked into committing herself to the mental ward. Her attempts to get help becomes her personal nightmare, surrounded by patients that terrify her like Violet (Juno Temple) and others who comfort her like Nate (Jay Pharoah). Meanwhile any efforts to prove her sanity only make her sound as crazy as the other guests around her.
Boiling Unsane down to a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-style drama is comparing it to the wrong apple. Like other Soderbergh films such as The Informant, Side Effects, or Erin Brockovich, he is working with various themes of emotional fears, mental health, the use of drugs to numb, and the current social climate of the #MeToo movement. The cinematography, through the use of that iPhone, creates an intense, often psychedelic experience. There is a fish-eye lens look, which is a head-spinning way of submerging us into Sawyer's frustrating, cloudy mind. As the narrative wrings the audience around in hospital rooms, our idea of what to believe becomes conflicting. Is Sawyer crazy? Does she need the pills their forcing her to choke down? And is that creepy stalker back to haunt her?
What I thoroughly enjoyed about Unsane is how well the narrative and style blends together. The script from Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer becomes a study of what humans perceive and what is a reality about mental illness. Just because someone may look irrational or mad does not necessarily mean they need help, while everyone's sensitivities should be taken seriously. Tying the tone together is the performance from Claire Foy, which is everything to this film. Her accent has moments where it's still raw, but the star of The Crown plays a woman whose paranoia is valid and anger as powerful as a clenched fist.
The end of Unsane turns into a thrilling survival film, in the vein of Hitchcock's Psycho, including a creepy and memorable performance from Joshua Leonard, who channels an inner Norman Bates mixed with The King of Comedy's Rupert Pupkin. Sawyer is trapped in a labyrinth, a maze where every reaction lands her more days in Highland Creek and her voice silenced because patients are viewed as dollar signs, not people.
There was a moment where I thought about keeping Unsane at 3 Stars, but I just couldn't stop thinking about this movie. It all comes together because of Soderbergh, a director who had come out of retirement for last year's hillbilly heist Logan Lucky and continues to prove he is just too good to stay on the sidelines. Unsane is a game-changer from a legend. Passing up on Unsane would be insane.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
STARRING: CLAIRE FOY; JOSHUA LEONARD; JUNO TEMPLE; JAY PHAROAH
DIRECTED BY: STEVEN SODERBERGH
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
What will be repeated over and over, till you're sick of hearing it, is that Steven Soderbergh's newest thriller Unsane was shot on an iPhone. Unlike Sean Baker's game-changing drama Tangerine, which was also shot with that Apple device, this newest use of the technology from Soderbergh feels like something beyond just the slick use of a different type of camera. Unsane is constantly unsettling, arriving at the right time, and combing new technology with a master technician like Soderbergh. Claire Foy stars as a woman who involuntarily commits herself to a mental facility, turning her life around, and psychologically bending what is real or potentially inside her head. Unsane is a claustrophobic drama, twisting our fears and emotions around, or for Steven Soderbergh, just another example of his diverse greatness.