Unsane (2018). Film review of the thriller about a sectioned woman whose stalker follow her to a mental institution.

image still unsane claire foy

Film review by Jason Day of the thriller starring Claire Foy about a woman who reports a stalker and whose behaviour leads to her being sectioned. 

Thriller/Suspense/Film Noir

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching



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Sawyer (Claire Foy) is new in town and acing her targets at the bank where she works. Personally she is aloof, bullish, distant and not liked by her colleagues. Despite her mother’s (Amy Irving) concerns, Sawyer lies and tells her life is good.

After talking to a psychiatrist about a previous episode with a stalker that heralded her move from home, Sawyer unwittingly sections herself and finds the more she protests her sanity, the crazier she sounds. Then, she sees her stalker working as an orderly and administering her drugs. Or did she imagine it?

Review, by Jason Day

Is cinema an elitist art? Or is it stridently, even constructively, egalitarian?

I was thinking about this the other day as I saw Unsane, the mental-health-provision-gone-mad thriller starring British actress Claire Foy and which was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7+.

No movie camera. No celluloid. Just a smartphone

It certainly gave director/cameraman/editor Steven Soderbergh (credited under a range of pseudonyms) a lot of creative control, but where was the cinema in it?

Now in existence for about 120 years, cinema can on many occasions evidence its artistic kudos with the works of a range of creative personnel, all experts with the then established tools of the movies (or, as Orson Welles once noted, “the biggest transit a boy ever had to play with!”).

Now in the digital age, those tools are rapidly vanishing. So, does that make it less of an ‘art’ form?

Or, free from its technical shackles, can it adapt to explode with new technical sophistication, immediacy, perhaps even emotional depth?

image still unsane claire foy

Insane in her membrane? Or sane woman searching for the exit? Claire Foy as Sawyer in Unsane (2018). 20th Century Fox.

Perhaps I’m getting too effusive here, but we are at least in some sort of hinterland at the moment while cinema finds its new feet. Still, I’d like to single out Unsane as an example where cinema’s technical ‘switch’ really, impressively works.

Unsane is not a great film, not by a long shot. It is unbelievably incredible (Sawyer, a highly organised, bolshy person, signs her liberty away without properly reading the forms given to her. Why doesn’t she just walk out of the automatic front doors?) and features some poor acting (Joshua Leonard, as her alleged stalker, elicits more giggles than shocks).

The exposition, a bit cliche, of whether Sawyer is crazy or not, is more or less resolved within the first 30 minutes of the film. Any pretence of the mystery promised in the trailer and advertising junket, that is if Sawyer’s drug addled, stressed out mind is imagining her terror or not, quickly evaporates. We are left with a routine mad house/slasher flick.

What it/Soderbergh nails though is its/his complete mastery over the finger-busting fidgetry of filming on small, handheld devices, completely reflecting those communications methods.

Scenes are set up to look like Foy is talking via FaceTime (with her Mom) or having a Skype chat (with the psychiatrist), with close-ups that resemble those horrible, bulging ones you get on a webcam.

Foy helps to hold the loose flaps of this movie fantastically well with a thoroughly unlikable, spirited and continually interesting performance as the mean girl all office workers love to hate.

Its also refreshing to see Amy Irving (the first Mrs Steven Spielberg and one of the mean girls in Brian De Palma’s classic Carrie, 1976) back on the big screen as Sawyer’s equally spirited, neglected Mom.

Matt Damon has a surprise cameo as a police office who specialises in stalkers and advises Sawyer to live under the life sentence of social and emotional house arrest.

In the final analysis, this isn’t as smart as its playful title and summaries of the film suggest but Soderbergh’s technique and Foy will keep you sane throughout.

For more, see the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Steven Soderbergh. 1hr 38 mins. Extension 765/New Regency Pictures/Regency Enterprises. (15)

Producer: Joseph Malloch.
Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer.
Camera: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews).
Sets: April Lasky.

Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Sarah Stiles, Amy Irving, Raúl Castillo, Colin Woodell, Zach Cherry.


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