Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple
It’s quite possible we already have the finest thriller film of the year so far. A full-on nerve-wracking experience from beginning to end, intensified by a pulsating music score, an unusual sense of imagery, and a wholly engaging and committed lead performance from Claire Foy, this tale of paranoia will have you second guessing everything that happens.
Sawyer (Claire Foy) is committed to a mental care facility against her will after she reports that she’s been seeing her stalker, David (Joshua Leonard), everywhere in her life. Although it seems bad enough that she’s been imprisoned in this facility and is tormented daily by patients, she sees that her stalker is now volunteering as a warden and trying to get closer to her. None of the patients or wardens believe her at first, and after some time spent in the institution, even she begins to doubt her own sanity.
Unsane skates a very fine line between seriousness and campiness and pulls it off successfully. Although there are explicit references to the corruption of mental health facilities, which is also tied in with the fearful and horribly life-changing dangers of stalkers, it is still all crafted in a slightly pulpy thriller that takes the right amount of leaps to not break suspension of disbelief and go into more adventurous areas in its story.
One flashback segment of the film reveals how Sawyer got entangled with the delusional David, who shows an unrelenting pursuit of her affection, resulting in her getting a restraining order and changing many aspects of her life. It’s this section of the film that really exposes the crippling realities of stalkers, a particular subject matter not usually addressed in films. And yet, the other side of it is explored, lending an understanding towards David’s infatuation, which makes this villain seem more multi-dimensional.
As has been heavily promoted, Unsane was shot entirely on an iPhone 7, which is initially noticeable, though becomes less distracting as you get more involved in the story and not so much the cinematography. This peculiar visual aesthetic is an inspired and odd look for the film that helps with creating an off-kilter intimacy (particularly with close-ups), though some of the framing choices can be more questionable than others, indicating that there’s still a few more wrinkles to iron out when it comes to filming with a device so compact.
What really makes Unsane excel is Claire Foy’s stunningly commanding and confident performance as the wonderfully written Sawyer. Similar horror and thriller films tend to make their protagonists weak as a way of making it scarier for the audience, but what makes Unsane all the more terrifying is despite Sawyer’s intelligence and diligence, she still remains trapped within the facility, and perhaps within her own mind.