Everything is going fine - until she is prevented from leaving...
Man, you have to love Steven Soderbergh. No modern mainstream filmmaker has displayed such a consistent hunger to try new things. He may not have cracked the box office in a while, but Soderbergh is so eclectic and self-aware that only a fool would count him out.
Following the interactive project Mosaic and the redneck heist comedy Logan Lucky, Soderbergh is back with the shot-on-an-iPhone horror movie Unsane, starring Claire Foy and Jay Pharaoh.
By the way, there will be spoilers in this review so stop reading now.
A down-and-dirty companion to his 2013 thriller Side Effects, Unsane is a gloriously unpretentious potboiler - boosted by Soderbergh's aversion to obvious genre tropes and use of editorial ellipses, which turn a silly premise into an escalating nightmare as Sawyer - and the audience - begin to question her sanity.
The unusual camera (which has been augmented by rigs and lenses, give the movie a claustrophobia and intimacy that works as Sawyer's world gets smaller and smaller.
While the camera is an interesting bit of trivia, for me the most interesting aspect of the film was Foy's character. Unlike most thrillers, Sawyer is never shown to be obviously likeable. By that, I don't mean unsympathetic - it's that Sawyer is not out to sugar-coat things and is not given to overt displays of empathy. A rarity for a female protagonist in a (semi) mainstream movie, Sawyer is smart, blunt, and can spot bullshit a mile away. While her accent wanders all over the place, Foy is really good.
Sawyer is also dealing with trauma, and is choosing to tackle it head-on (until she heads into the facility). It makes a neat change of pace from the usual character set-up of most genre movies which try to give their central characters a 'save the cat' moment to bring the audience onboard.
Foy's performance (spiky and withdrawn) also works as a neat misdirect for the film's big twist. It becomes very easy to start believing that she is an unreliable narrator who really does need treatment.
As far as the supporting cast go, Jay Pharaoh of SNL is great as a fellow patient who shows Sawyer the ropes. While it is great to see Amy Irving in something, there is something a little odd about her performance. Maybe it was a choice, but there is something stilted about there delivery that made me think she was in on the plot.
The movie is really a triumph for Soderbergh's aesthetic choices. In the past he has spoken of how his natural approach works to inhibit melodrama and easy emotional responses, and it gives his more genre-specific films a pleasing unpredictability - with Unsane, he knows the aesthetic of this type of thriller (fisheye lens, super-impositions, extreme low angle close-ups and disjunctive edits), and deploys it with economy. Even an average viewer develops a subconscious understanding of cinematic vocabulary, and to its credit, Unsane is always working against visual and aural choices that a viewer can use to start putting the story together.
It might be a little too cool for a lot of people (my theatre was almost empty) but if you are in the mood for it, Unsane is worth a look.
Logan Lucky & The Informant!