Unsane - Review


Unsane, Steven Soderbergh's latest film, was shot entirely on an iPhone. Cinematography and direction were handled by Soderbergh, and the script was written by the guy who wrote The Spy Next Door. Amazingly, Unsane is not the catastrophic failure that appears on paper, but a genuinely thrilling story of a woman against the messed-up world. 

There is little to compare Unsane to in terms of other movies, aside from the Sean Baker's Tangerine and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Other than that, Unsane is a film all its own. Much of the story hinges on revealed points, so I won't go deep into the plot here. The film does, through its story, touch on some themes that are quite intriguing, and while this is by all means a thriller, there are light elements of social commentary peppered throughout. 

The mental hospital leading woman Claire Foy inhabits hinges on a series of loose legal precedents, and the film spends quite a bit of time dissecting this. Cops ignore the hospital's infractions with the ignorance of a Hitchcock picture, and the staff are often just as crazy as the patients. The merits of health insurance providers is brought up consistently, and in our society, comes across as a distinct commentary from Soderbergh. The film is quite creative in its story, so I won't say too much, but there is a lot more realism to this picture than I initially expected. 

Unsane's more thrilling side involves a woman and her stalker. The picture does a truly remarkable job of shooting scenes that feel claustrophobic; squished, by the lack of peripheral vision. The iPhone camera quality is noticeable, very much so: So much that you should definitely know ahead of time what the film looks like. While I would be shocked if anyone was turned off to the film because of this, it gives the film a very specific look. Normal scenes look creepy, and you can almost feel the actors, the camera is so close to them. This film does not infer the iPhone as a gimmick; it makes its camera an asset. The first twenty minutes of Unsane left me in shock, as most shots are so unique and perplexing, I feel as if I need to see the film again to explore all their nuances. 

The camera creativity alone is reason enough to see Unsane, but thankfully, there is more than that. Unsane tells a thrilling story that flourishes in its first half, but becomes more of a weight by the end. 

Characters are chilling and ominous, especially the lead antagonist, until they are not. In a prolonged solitary containment sequence, we are subjected to far too much exposition from the mouth of the stalker that often veers towards humanizing. While it is not bad for a film to go in a risky direction with its villain, Unsane's is simply inconsistent. One minute we are being horrified by the nefarious deeds of the stalker, the next minute he's blubbering like a baby over a negative comment from Foy. This doesn't come across as nuanced, just messy. 

Unsane is a fascinating, compelling thriller that goes far beyond its creative cinematography. The acting is universally great, shots feel tailored to the camera, and the story only occasionally fumbles over itself. A thrilling new standard has been set by Soderbergh, and is likely to inspire countless young filmmakers equipped with little more than their phones. Oh, and good scripts.