Review: Unsane

Director(s)Steven Soderbergh
Principal CastClaire Foy as Sawyer Valentini
Joshua Leonard as David
Jay Pharoah as Nate
Amy Irving as Angelina Valentini
Juno Temple as Violet
Release Date 2018
Running Time98 minutes

This is a movie that deserves to be talked about in the same vein as Get Out when it comes to well done social-commentary horror movies. While Peele’s debut dealt with race, Soderbergh’s story tackles the mental health industry, the #MeToo movement, incel culture, and the effects of a society that amps up paranoia while blaming you for feeling scared. Watching these themes intersect is what makes the movie so distinct and memorable.

The story follows Sawyer Valenti, a women trying to get her life back on track after a harrowing series of run-ins with a serial stalker. After she’s committed to a mental facility, she finds herself trying to find a way out and to deal with the possibility that her stalker is in the institution with her. Soderbergh does a great job at portraying the horrors of being a women in the world. Sawyer deals with snide remarks at the workplace, lack of respect during cordial interactions, constant gaslighting, and a severe lack of respect. She’s simultaneously taught to handle situations with a certain fear and sense of uneasiness and is disrespected for those qualities. It’s frustrating to watch her constantly undermined and thwarted by a system that seems to make it impossible for her to ever win.

What makes the story so much more interesting is the presence of well-rounded and interesting side characters. Angelina is Sawyer’s fierce mother and is on her daughter’s side, trying to help her out. Nate is a resourceful and interesting kind-of friend on the side. Watching him interact with and teach Sawyer the rules of the land is fun, and their burgeoning friendship is pulled off convincingly. The other patients at the facility are handled with respect. This isn’t a mental patients scary movie. In fact, the movie actively argues the opposite. It’s clear that Soderbergh thinks that the mental health industry is almost irredeemable and actively serves to trap everyday people in a system to suck them dry of their money. The patients reflect this. They’re all “off” but they’re not crazy. They’re social, have codes of conduct, and want to interact.

Every major performance is also great. Foy understands the motivations that drive her character and makes her sometimes questionable actions feel believable. The fear, the desperation, the indignation, the sheer lack of energy at having to deal with any more nonsense. You can feel her emotions through the way she moves her body across the screen. Pharoah is amazing in his side role and adds a lot of levity to the otherwise tense movie. He plays well off Foy and the scenes they have talking to each other are among my favorite as a result.

So if you haven’t heard already, this movie was shot exclusively on an iPhone 7 Plus. Soderbergh has talked a lot about how he’s astounded with the results of the movie. I went in to the movie because I heard it was only shot on a cell phone and I was curious at how it’d turn out. I think Soderbergh’s experiment proved mixed results. There are a lot of great shots and sequences, but they never feel as powerful as they should because the iPhone can’t capture the light at all. There’s very little contrast in dark scenes, so you almost start praying for more stuff to occur in the light, just so you know for sure what’s happening. The movie looks a lot more grimy and worn out. I personally liked it, because I thought it fight with the movie and psyche of the characters but if you want something that looks clean, look elsewhere. I didn’t think the movie looked bad per say. I just think that this movie deserved better because of how good the story and characters are.

Plot wise, I don’t share a lot of the same criticisms I’ve seen a lot of other reviews bring up. I think a lot of the sequences in the movie are justified or are done for very distinctive purposes. That being said, there’s only two plot elements that comes up in the third act that feel a bit too absurd. I thought the movie was going to be more nuanced/ambiguous with one of these ideas and it isn’t which made me pretty sad. It’s not that the movie is bad , but it feels like what could’ve been a genuine horror masterpiece is only pretty good instead. However, I can honestly say watching this inspired me. If something this great can be made with an iPhone camera, then there’s only room for improvement. Any of us can make a movie, and I applaud a bigger director for doing this. (Yes I know Tangerine exists. I watched it later and I highly recommend it for people who want to see the true places the medium can go).

Report Card

TLDRUnsane is a horror movie about the everyday scenarios women have to go through and does a great job at fairly demonstrating that struggle. The film’s nuanced takes on incel culture, #MeToo tenets, and the mental health industry make it one of the most interesting movies of recent times. Thought it stumbles in some places, I can’t help but appreciate the effort.

The movie being shot on an iPhone 7 may upset some people. The movie is grainy and lighting isn’t that great, but you won’t notice as much when you’re lost in the story.
Grade A

I have a more in depth piece about this coming soon, so check back later for a spoiler discussion.

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