Starring Claire Foy, Unsane tells the story of Sawyer Valentini, who is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she believes she is confronted by her stalker. Is she suffering from delusion or reality? Directed by Steven Soderbergh and shot on an iPhone, the thriller was originally released at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 21, 2018.
I was really looking forward to Unsane. The trailers sold the film as a paranoia-laced thriller with some work for the audience to figure out the reality of the lead character. To be fair, the first two acts stay true to that concept. Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is an anxious individual attempting to climb the ladder in the corporate world, with her sleazy male boss offering job security whilst also indirectly trying to form a sexual relationship. Sawyer is suffering from PTSD-type flashes due to the trauma of her recent past with an invasive stalker. Her attempt to move on leads her to see a counselor in the hope she will get help. As you have witnessed in the trailers, her meeting takes a nightmarish turn when she is involuntarily committed to a mental institution. I jokingly thought to myself that this is the kind of day that you look back at and joke with your friends about. Sawyer endeavoring to explain to doctors and nursing staff that her mental wellbeing is perfectly passable, whilst they convince her it is not, is what gives Unsane an intriguing half of a film.
The other half is a predictable and absurd story that becomes tiresome despite the standard 90-minute running time. Of course, you have to lower yourself to far-fetched storylines, but if the supporting cast does not believe in the script, then, in the end, you have Claire Foy acting her socks off to bring the story to its conclusion. The problem is that director Steven Soderbergh struggled to tie it all together to have an impactful final act.
The entire point of the story is for the audience to figure out if they believe Sawyer; is the stalker really one of the nursing staff or are we missing a hole in her life that has caused her to lose reality? Unsane purposefully strays away from giving any background to the stalker apart from the creepy male narration at the start. How the film ties it all together feels too revealing and wedged in to make it all work. Unsane and its B-movie feel benefitted from ambiguity, but once that is removed, it feels like a bunch of creative actors coming together in drama school to practice some concept scripts. The Girl on The Train managed to maintain mystery well until it mattered; Unsane does not.
What can be commended is the director’s approach. The shots are up close and personal, almost invasive, which is a great achievement with just an iPhone. It is designed to make Sawyer feel uncomfortable and to make the normal characters look sinister when they are really not. This allows the audience to question Sawyer’s mental state and add doubt to the story. Additionally, some shots from afar were obviously created to feel like a stalker. It’s a well-chosen technique so it a sad shame the movie had pitfalls because there is potential.
We all know Claire Foy is making strides recently, especially with her quick rise on Netflix’s The Crown. Her performance in Unsane gives us a glimpse into her depth, which is promising. This is clearly a leading performance and holds a torch to Natalie Portman’s Jackie, where she needs to perform within the frame of an up-close camera. She manages to come across as a real person who is clearly in dire straights. The performance is slightly over-egged and needlessly naive in terms of the writing, but that cannot be helped with the wooden performances from others.
Unsane will not make you go insane with the mystery. Nor will it make you feel interested until the very end. This is pretty much a movie that suffers from an over-juiced concept with a poorly written final act to tie it all together. It is maybe worth a shot on a streaming platform.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.