Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard & Jay Pharoah
Rating: 15 Duration: 97 minutes Release date: 23 March
Four years ago director Steven Soderbergh “retired” from making films after the powerful Side Effects – a thriller based on a young woman whose dealings prescription pills turned her world inside out. Since then Soderbergh has directed episodes of The Knick and Mosaic and 2017’s Logan Lucky. It should be said that Soderbergh does not seem done directing films and Unsane follows on from Side Effects, with a woman in the lead role and who is pitted at the merciless hands of the American healthcare system.
The first thing to remark about Unsane is that the entire film was shot on an iPhone. At first it may feel like a gimmick employed by the director in an effort to further experiment with the medium of film. But, the purpose of its use soon becomes clear and what Soderbergh does so well here is to make us feel a part of the film, and at the same time make us feel like we are intruding on someone’s daily life. As Sawyer (Foy) engages with her creepy boss and endures ogling glances from men, we feel the unease she must feel every day. The use of an iPhone soon disappears from your mind, but also further punctuates her fears. As Sawyer becomes more paranoid she seeks help from a psychiatrist, and unwittingly commits herself to a mental hospital.
Soderbergh has plenty of previous in dealing with American healthcare. Side Effects portrayed a young woman whose life slowly spiralled out of control after being prescribed various drugs for her condition. While Contagion dealt with the fears of people and how the threat of disease can spiral out of control. Unsane focuses on the ordeal of Claire Foy’s Sawyer and the deeply personal impact of having a stalker can have on a woman’s life. The films early scenes focus on the consequences of this, emphasized by her panic attack during a proposed one night stand. Things then move onto the mental hospital where Sawyer has unknowingly committed herself.
The fear escalates as Unsane asks whether Sawyer is genuinely troubled psychologically, or if the hospital that holds her is instead doing so as part of an insurance scam. Soderbergh plays on the paranoia and creates an unnerving sense of realism in the underhand tactics of the medical professionals we put our faith in. The idea that more drugs bring about more issues for the patient is also played on here and through Claire Foy, Soderbergh has the perfect foil. Foy puts in an exceptional performance, and one that is about as far away from her role in The Crown as you could imagine. Likewise Joshua Leonard is alarmingly creepy as the man stalking her.
Once the film establishes itself, it does lose some of its atmosphere. The focus shifts and becomes more of a conventional thriller. A cameo in the middle of the film also threatens to take you out of the experience, and nearly derails the entire thing. As scenarios change, the film picks up for the final act and even though the spirit of things has changed, it is nonetheless effective. Sawyer’s journey may not feel all that natural at times, and Unsane echoes the more Hollywood desires of last years Split. But, it is still a film filled with paranoia and intrigue and leaves you in the hope that Steven Soderbergh stays firmly not retired this time.