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Unsane – Movie Review

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Unsane – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

If the purpose of most horror films is to create that uneasy feeling of dread, Unsane definitely succeeds in that goal. Steven Soderbergh’s decision to film it with iPhones adds to the unsettling quality of what being in this mental institution might be like. Rather than using cheap jump scares and other tricks, Soderbergh prefers to show the psychological effect this place has on Claire Foy’s Sawyer. For the most part, there’s an uncertainty of how much Sawyer’s visions are real and whether she truly belongs there. This is a carefully crafted horror film, clearly made by a filmmaker with a rather low opinion of the American medical system.

Unsane immediately taps into the fear of both being followed and finding yourself in a place you can’t escape. There is something unnerving about mental facilities and Soderbergh captures that uneasiness of being looked down up and unable to make one’s own independent decisions. The healthcare workers having frequent smiles when trying to preach the effectiveness of the institution creates the proper suspicions towards them. On top of it is the idea that Sawyer’s stalker has potentially followed her to this place. Claire Foy conveys the proper fear as well as the various emotions going on in her head. One identifies with her annoyance at being placed there against her will and root for her to get out.

In addition to Unsane’s less than rosy views on the healthcare industry, there is also a strong message on male obsession through the depiction of Sawyer’s stalker. While the portrayal of the medical workers might seem a bit farfetched, the behaviour of Joshua Leonard’s creepy admirer isn’t out of left field. While Foy is the star of the picture, other actors provide more than solid performances. Jay Pharaoh is a stand-out as an aide to Sawyer and inserts some genuine and needed moments of light humour. There’s a solid bond between Foy and Pharaoh’s Nate, without turning it into a romantic relationship. Juno Temple, meanwhile, digs into her role and allows us to understand her character and her confusion at Sawyer, instead of demonizing her like maybe other filmmakers or actors would.

The iPhone cinematography only heightens the unsettling quality of Unsane. The iPhone isn’t always the most appropriate filming tool (it would be odd to see it used in a big-budget special effects extravaganza), but this is definitely one of the best uses of the technology. Soderbergh implements multiple shots that fit the moods of the characters, whether it’s the claustrophobia of solitary confinement or the friendliness of Sawyer and Nate’s relationship. Even when used in the opening scenes, the camera phone quality gives the sense of Sawyer being watched. It’s terrific seeing filmmakers implementing new tools to tell stories. With Unsane and Sean Baker’s Tangerine, we see firsthand a new way to photograph and shoot movies without sacrificing quality.

However, beyond the iPhone, Unsane is an unnerving horror film that does tap into deep fears of not being believed and constantly feeling attacked. There are layers to the scares being presented, but it doesn’t use monsters. The film uses real demons and each audience member will find something that targets a specific fear they themselves have. Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker that has been experimenting since the very beginning of his career, but rarely in a way that feels like he’s showing off. We appear to be in an age of daring and original horror films and Unsane is another worthy one to watch in the dark.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison