Movie Review: Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot psychological thriller Unsane is a bold achievement
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The screenplay is truly unpredictable and there's no telling where it's going to end up!
Shot entirely on an iPhone, the Steven Soderbergh-directed Unsane is a deeply disturbing psychological thriller that's like a suffocating nightmare you can't wake up from.
Claire Foy ("The Crown") plays Sawyer, a young businesswomen dealing with the trauma of being stalked. After experiencing a breakdown, she decides to visit a counselor at a behavioral therapy center. But next thing you know, she's committed to the mental ward against her will. And the even scarier thing is -- she's convinced that her stalker happens to be a new employee at the same facility. From there, Sawyer attempts to find a way out, whether it's convincing the doctors that she doesn't belong there, or using more drastic measures.
The idea of a character's "You're never getting out of here!" down-spiral within an institution -- whether a hospital or a prison -- isn't necessarily a new concept in the genre of psychological thrillers and horror stories, but you've probably never seen it done with this type of visceral and bold approach. This thing is radically unnerving, frustrating, stressful, and completely engrossing. The feeling of utter helplessness for Sawyer practically becomes nearly unbearable for us an audience, and the shot-on-iPhone (the 7 Plus, to be exact) tactic gives the film a look of raw immediacy -- the smaller frame also lends to the sense of claustrophobia and disorienting effects.
As far as the narrative, it grips hold tightly from beginning to finish. Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer's screenplay remains truly unpredictable and there's really no telling where it's going to end up. And the impressive thing is that it manages to compel without dropping any major, rug-pulling twists. In fact, the twist might be that there is no twist. See, this story is less about the common, clear-cut questions like "Is she crazy or not?" or "Is it real or all in her head?" and more about the effects of abuse, PTSD, the views of mental illness, the treatment of patients, and a problematic healthcare system. Claire Foy gives a greatly impressive lead performance that is tumultuous, demanding, and extremely emotional. Also good are Jay Pharoah (this was a surprise) and Juno Temple in some memorable supporting roles.
Granted, Unsane is not a film for everyone, nor is it an easy watch, but it's certainly an audacious achievement on multiple levels.