A woman, Sawyer Valentini, is going through a tough time. She had to change her entire life to get away from a stalker, and now it’s taking an emotional toll. When Sawyer seeks the help of a counselor, she gets tricked into admitting herself into a mental hospital. To make things worse, the man she believes to be her stalker gets a job at the hospital. The longer Sawyer stays there, the less clear her sanity becomes. Is her story real? Or is she insane?
This film had quite a bit of buzz when it was announced for two main reasons. The first being that it is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich). This is the second film directed by Soderbergh since announcing his retirement. While this doesn’t necessarily mean he is “back” from retirement, it does seem that he is willing to work on a film if he finds it compelling enough. The second piece of buzz came from the fact that Soderbergh chose to film Unsane entirely with an iPhone. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be that much benefit to this filming choice other than it being a gimmick to draw in audiences. An argument could be made that the filming style added a heightened sense of reality to the plot, but generally speaking the use of an iPhone doesn’t really affect the film in any real positive way. It doesn’t necessarily negatively effect the film either, but audiences going in expecting the filming style to be revolutionary may be disappointed.
The film begins by effectively blurring the lines of reality, both for the main character and for the audience. It creates a battle inside the viewers head similar to what the main character experiences, never knowing what is real. The filmmakers chose to reveal the truth about halfway through the film, if not a bit sooner. While the rest of the film was still quite nerve-wracking and interesting, it probably could have been even more intense if the truth was hidden until the climax of the film. Aside from the intensity of the plot, one of the most compelling parts of this film is how it portrays the flawed mental health system. In many ways this is the most terrifying aspect of the film, because it comes across as the most authentic. If the idea of being stalked or the possibility of losing your mind doesn’t disturb you, then being trapped in a corrupt mental hospital when you don’t belong there will.
It likely comes as no surprise that the breakout performance of this film is Clair Foy (The Crown, Season of the Witch) as Sawyer. Foy is fantastic as she goes through the various emotions and struggles throughout the film. She goes through everything from PTSD after being stalked, rage at being wrongfully committed, uncertainty about her own sanity, and a sheer will to survive. She gives the kind of performance where you almost forget there are other characters in the film. Jay Pharoah (Ride Along, Lola Versus) is also enjoyable as another patient at the mental hospital, Nate. He is the only one to believe Sawyer and try to help her, despite being stuck there as well, and Pharoah comes across as a very trusting character. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, If I Stay) plays Sawyer’s alleged stalker. Leonard is undoubtably creepy in the film. My only issue with his performance is at times he comes across as much too meek to be able to do the things Sawyer believes he is doing, although this is likely more due to direction and writing than it is with Leonard’s acting. The whole cast generally performs well in the film, but it will definitely be Foy who people remember.
Unsane manages to make audiences lose their grip on reality right along with Sawyer. Not only does it have edge-of-your-seat tension by making it unclear what is real and what isn’t, but it also highlights the horrific flaws in the mental health system. Combine that with a strong performance from Foy, and it is easy to see why Soderbergh decided to direct this film. Many viewers will likely be drawn to the film because of the use of an iPhone for filming, but it is really more of a marketing ploy than anything that truly enhances the film. If the filmmakers had held out a bit longer for the “big reveal” then the plot may have been a bit more mysterious, but as it is the film is still extremely intense. Audiences will still be thinking about this film long after leaving the theater, and they will likely be watching their backs for their own stalker.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10