20th CENTURY FOX (2018)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins
“Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you…”
In the will-he-won’t-he saga known as Steven Soderbergh’s retirement plan, the next instalment comes in the form of Unsane – a psychological thriller/horror. What makes this stand out is the fact that it was shot entirely on iPhone (with a few handy extra lenses) checking off a new technique from Soderbergh and giving the audience something entirely different from the norm.
Having moved to Pennsylvania to escape her troubled past life, Sawyer Valentini (Foy) struggles to settle into her new surroundings with a new job lacking any verve, no friends and a pervy boss to contend with. After a Tinder date goes awry and a trip to the therapist yields little results, Sawyer finds herself unwittingly checking herself into a voluntary 24-hour commitment at a behavioural institution. Her stay is anything but smooth as erratic behaviour and violent outbursts prolong her stay, and things get even worse when she suspects one of the staffers to be someone from the darkest part of her past.
The major selling point behind Unsane was its use of iPhone technology - along with Soderbergh behind the wheel and Claire Foy as the able co-pilot, of course – but the curiosity is in the gimmick, and a gimmick it is. For the majority of the movie, the ploy works just fine, scenes are shot almost CCTV-like or voyeuristically – but I wouldn’t be keen on many more movies adopting this way of film-making,
Claire Foy is committed and confident leading the movie and the camera/phone never strays too far from her, whether distantly watching or through claustrophobic close-ups, Foy’s performance is captured viscerally. Joshua Leonard, too, commits to his lechy performance though by the end it becomes slightly parodic. Poor Juno Temple is reduced to a poor cornrowed, generic loony. The initial narrative intrigue gives way to a cat-and-mouse game by the end of the movie and it becomes pretty vanilla around the halfway mark. The finale is pretty awful as the ‘horror’ aspect comes to the fore, changing the tone even more and it just doesn’t feel organic. Just as frustratingly, leaps in logic from (almost all) the characters undermine the story to a derailing extent and the messy third act suffers heavily because of this.
There’s a real matte look to the movie, every scene is drenched in a grungy filter and it isn’t exciting or particularly nice to look at. Maybe this was a conscious choice from Soderbergh to match the mood of the scenes, but it becomes draining.
It’s always intriguing when directors take risks and try new things, but sometimes the gimmick is more interesting than the storytelling and Unsane is truly guilty of this. At times, it seems as if everyone got a bit bored during production and laboured towards the finish line. I know I was bored by the time the finish line came.
August 6th 2018