Society's constant use of technology is a common conversation in the past few years, and is something that we've seen reflected in art. TV and film put a spotlight on the issues of the world, which is exactly what Steven Soderbergh seems to be doing with Unsane. The new psychological thriller makes plenty of statements about health care and mental health issues, but it's also told through a very specific modern lens. Soderbergh shot the entirety of Unsane on an iPhone, resulting in a surprisingly intimate and unnerving moviegoing experience. Rather than just an attempt to make headlines, the use of an iPhone actually helps Soderbergh bring the film's tone and tension to the forefront in a successful way.
Unsane focuses almost solely on Sawyer Valentini, played by The Crown's Claire Foy. Sawyer recently moved to a new city, and is clearly very isolated from the world and dealing with issues of PTSD. After she sees a vision of the stalker she moved away from, she attempts to find a support group for stalking victims. But she unwittingly ends up admitted into a mental institution, and her sanity begins coming into question for both the character and the audience.
What follows is an extremely intimate and unpredictable ride, as Sawyer attempts to hold onto her sanity (and eventually her life) from within the confines of the facility. Clearly something shady is going on, although she's unable to convince any of the staff that she's sane. All she's got is a buddy in Jay Pharoah's Nate, who seems to understand the insidious nature of the hospital.
From the film's opening shots, you can tell that Unsane isn't going to be your typical thriller. The use of an iPhone results in long shots that simply don't look like anything audiences are used to seeing. Closeups are extremely intimate, with the actors no doubt playing their scenes just inches away from the equipment. These long shots help establish a connection with Sawyer, while also giving the audience an overall sense of unease and anxiety.
Of course, this was likely purposeful. We feel like someone is always watching the scenes, no doubt Steven Soderbergh's way of putting moviegoers through Sawyer's perspective. She's constantly terrified of her stalker in the outside world, which only intensifies once she's in captivity and being monitored and medicated.
Unsane's performances are all pretty solid. Fans of Netflix's The Crown will be thrilled to see Claire Foy once again shining on screen, albeit in a role that is the total opposite of Queen Elizabeth. This is reportedly what attracted the actress to the role, who had been inhabiting Elizabeth's stuffy attitude and unique accent for the past two seasons. Unfortunately Foy's American accent does falter a few times throughout the course of the film, but her vulnerable and layered performance helps to keep the movie going forward.
Claire Foy gets to share her most intense scenes with Joshua Leonard, who plays Sawyer's stalker David Strine. Horror fans will of course know him from his iconic role in The Blair Witch Project, and will be excited to see him in another horror movie. Their long scenes, combined with the look from shooting with an iPhone, allow the audience to truly immerse itself in the twisted world of Unsane.
The film's marketing all seems to be focused on making Sawyer an unreliable narrator. "Is she or isn't she?" is touted to be the main questions of the film, although that's a conceit that fades in and out of the narrative. Once Sawyer is able to contact her mother (Amy Irving), that feeling does seem to dissipate. Someone she loves knows she's in the facility, and is trying to get her out. This actually lowers the stakes at points, and made me just assume that Sawyer was right all along.
Unsane is an unsettling and wholly original thriller that twists and turns all the way to the end. The decision to use an iPhone is an inspired one, and pairs perfectly with the film's themes and Claire Foy's stunning acting. The horror renaissance is alive and well, and I wouldn't be surprised if other filmmakers attempt to use similar cinematography in the near future.
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