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Film Review – Unsane (2018)

Steven Soderbergh appears to have put his self-imposed retirement in the rearview mirror with the creation of his production studio Fingerprint Releasing, distributing his second film into theaters in a mere eight-month span.  His latest feature, Unsane, proves that he hasn’t lost his creative touch.  The following review will be spoiler free.

Unsane

Synopsis

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Written By: Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Jay Pharoah, and Amy Irving

Haunted by her stalker that caused her to uproot and move to a new location, Sawyer (Foy) heads over to a local medical facility for counseling, thinking that sharing her inner thoughts will provide a cathartic experience.

Unfortunately, Sawyer unknowingly signs herself into voluntary commitment at the facility, forcing her to stay until the staff believes she is no longer a threat to herself and society.

Hopped-up on various medications, Sawyer starts to see her stalker in the facility.  However, when the staff refuses to acknowledge her claims, Sawyer can’t figure out whether she’s in danger or if it’s all in her head.

Background

Unsane has a neat aura of mystery surrounding it.  From its pulpy premise to its unorthodox appearance, Steven Soderbergh is making it clear that he’s going to direct and produce films that he wants to make — and no studio executive is going to tell him otherwise.

It was reported by various outlets back in the summer of 2017 that Soderbergh had secretly shot a film with the help of Claire Foy and Juno Temple.  When that secret film later became Unsane, everyone was buzzing about it for one distinct reason: Soderbergh shot the film completely with iPhones.  More specifically, he used iPhone 7 Pluses and the FiLMiC Pro app to edit everything together.  There you have it, aspiring filmmakers — just go to the app store and delete some of your unfortunate pictures from last night and you can make a movie just like the guy that made Ocean’s Eleven.

It’s quite amazing what technology can do these days.  Sean Baker was one of the first to adopt Apple products into filmmaking with his indie-hit Tangerine back in 2015, and updates (as well as Apple slowing down your phone to force said update) have made it even easier for filmmakers to bring their vision to life.  And with Unsane carrying a budget of only $1.5 million, more filmmakers and studios will adopt this style down the road.  Who knows, maybe at some point we won’t be able to tell the difference between iPhones and 70mm film.

unsane

image via The Verge

Claire Foy is Magnetic in the Lead Role

Soderbergh puts Foy in a great situation to succeed, placing enough burden on her shoulders as a girl that’s trying to put the pieces of her life back together after moving to a new city.

Often times Foy works as the audience stand-in, causing the audience to feel frustrated as well when she just can’t seem to get out her own way as the weight of the situation (not to mention a copious amount of drugs) keeps knocking her down.  By the end of Unsane, you feel like you went to war with Claire Foy with all the punishment and hardship she endures.  She doesn’t always remain the most likable individual, but she changes her outward expression to fit the situation.

She often gets violent with other patients, forcing the nurses to strap her down to the nearest bed.  Some have noted that this erratic behavior doesn’t exactly help her fix her predicament, but the mounting pressure of the situation warrants emotional outbursts — and Foy definitely gets in a few good punches of her own.

For a high-end B-movie such as Unsane, you need your protagonist to act a tad aggressive and unhinged but still be in the right.  All of her actions are defensible, making this trashy affair a treat for those looking for some low-budget thrills.

unsane

image via IndieWire

The iPhone Treatment Works for Unsane on a Thematic Level

Soderbergh has been quoted saying that the future of filmmaking is in iPhones and similar technology.  It’ll be awhile before that statement is ever confirmed or debunked, but the iPhone adds some bizarre touches to this movie that work to its benefit.

The iPhone adds an element of grain and grit to the picture onscreen.  There’s definitely an element of color correction that just doesn’t translate over to this new-age camera, and everything feels dirtier as a result.  Colors don’t pop as the usually do; everything defaults to shades of yellow, brown, and gray.  The camera movements are sometimes awkward, moving without the same fluidity of the industry standard.  The frame even warps features depending on how Soderbergh propped up the iPhone for that scene.  Everything about Unsane is just off.  And for a psychological thriller, the appearance of discomfort sends shivers down your spine after a while.

Unsane eats away at your comfort levels as it becomes more seedy and vicious into its third act.  Gross direction and delightfully twisted performances create an atmosphere that is always interesting — even when the film falters.

unsane

image via IMDb

Unsane Feels Like Two Different Movies Stitched Together

Unsane starts as an exploration of the fragile mind.  More specifically, it wants you to question whether or not Claire Foy’s character is actually insane or not.  The first half of the film stays true to this altered perception, creating a wave of mystery that’s quite alluring and mystifying.  Then, Unsane inexplicably changes course, showing its cards prematurely.

Unsane doesn’t go off the rails from this point, but it fails to fully capitalize on its own idea.  Instead, the film becomes a somewhat standard thriller in its third act, doing more for your desire for visceral thrills rather than create more mental stimulation.  Soderbergh never digs hard enough into the insanity portion of the film, making Foy’s intentions somewhat obvious from the beginning.  In that sense, Unsane isn’t as quite as thrilling or as memorable as you want it to become, ending with a somewhat generic whimper.  It’s a pity since it’s so obvious that Soderbergh approached the material with such a distinct visual representation.

unsane

image via The New York Times

Final Thoughts

Unsane is cringeworthy in all the right ways, digging deep into its own unsettling material for a movie that continues to up the ante until the final frame.  While Soderbergh adds some serious dirt to this grimy story by the flashy use of iPhones as cameras, Claire Foy is the clear star of the film, becoming both strong and vulnerable at the exact same time.

This thriller does get bumpy to a somewhat alarming degree, but a distinctive twist on the stalker subgenre makes Unsane a bloody good time.

Grade: B

unsane

image via Variety

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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

8 Responses

  1. Stephen Finlay says:

    Sean Baker’s Tangerine was also great. It’s so good to see that Unsane carries on the same film making methods with the iPhone. FiLMiC Pro needs more exposure to motivate young filmmakers. Definitely going to give this one a watch.

  2. This was on my list of most anticipated films of the year, so I can’t wait to see it! Glad to hear a positive review of it!

  3. floatinggold says:

    Now I look forward to seeing this. I had no idea it was shot with an iPhone. How interesting.

  4. Nick Kush says:

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