With UnSane, Steven Soderbergh has created a lean, tech-savvy psychological horror for the #metoo era.
Claire Foy stars as Sawyer Valentini, a bright-eyed, damaged businesswoman who, having recently upended her life to get away from a stalker, is tricked into having herself “voluntarily” committed
She’s understandably pissed off and scared. Even a few hours can seem like a long time on an open ward – one inmate, Violet (Juno Temple; giggly, braided, and evidently unstable), takes a particular dislike to her. The administrators consider Sawyer a nuisance, the cops are uninterested, the staff are indifferent, and the lawyers are dragging their feet. And, to make matters immeasurably worse, she’s begun seeing her stalker (Joshua Leonard; pathetic and monstrous) everywhere.
Is Sawyer delusional or are there even more sinister forces at play?
Shot on an iPhone 7 in relative secrecy, Soderbergh uses the sallow institutional lighting and shallow depth of field to create the feel of a world that could, for Sawyer, spin out at any moment. Though, experimentally speaking, a touch unremarkable – a low-res, violet-tinted forest scene brought to mind Knightmare, of all things – the prolific indie director finds a few neat disturbing touches; like overlaying a Spike Lee-style dolly shot of Sawyer’s face with another of the back of her head, representing her confusion and detachment during a drug-induced manic episode.
For Foy, who first really emerged into public consciousness with Netflix’s The Crown, this might well have been her audition for Lisbeth Salander for The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Aloof and antisocial, “difficult”, “unlikable”, but able to turn on an engrating charm when required, the film is defined by her refusal to become a victim. When an anti-stalker expert (played by Matt Damon) is telling her of the radical changes she’ll have to make – “Think of your cellphone as your enemy” – she is shaken but never distraught.
In likely one of the scenes of the year, Sodebergh’s camera performs a 360° pan – tight, close quarters – as Sawyer faces down her demons with all the cruel, passionately rational insight that she can muster. Even when faced with wrenching loss and violence, she persists; she endures.
And yet UnSane is not, in itself, a feat of endurance. It’s a sharp, lean, occasionally shocking B-movie that stays on point right until the final scene in which Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s script fumbles the ball slightly with its, perhaps inadvertent, #notallmen slant. That said, this is one definitely worth checking out – on VOD if not necessarily in the cinema.
You’d be unsane to miss it.