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Unsane (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 12, 2020


UNSANE (2018)

Starring Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Sarah Stiles, Marc Kudisch, Colin Woodell, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Lynda Mauze, Zach Cherry, Polly McKie, Raúl Castillo, Mike Mihm, Robert Kelly, Natalie Gold, Sol M. Crespo, Will Brill, Steven Maier, Matthew R. Staley, Matt Mancini, Emily Happe and Matt Damon.

Screenplay by Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Distributed by Bleecker Street. 98 minutes. Rated R.

Remember when Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking five years ago when he released Side Effects, because “Movies don’t matter anymore?” That didn’t last long.

It didn’t even last even a year – though he transferred his talents to television for a few years, helming the HBO film Behind the Candelabra and the acclaimed series The Knick within a year after Side Effects. It took until last year for him to go back to theatrical filmmaking, with the low-budget Logan Lucky. Unsane is his second movie back in the saddle, again a small feature with a modest slightly-known cast and budget.

It makes sense for him to land back in low-budget filmmaking, after all his breakthrough movie Sex, Lies and Videotape was arguably the film which kick-started the independent film craze. However, by the time he had become one of the biggest names in Hollywood – he made Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike and Ocean’s 11 – he still had a love for the little films he came up making.

Unsane feels like a lost 70s grindhouse thriller, like a Brian De Palma pre-fame chiller like Sisters or Obsession or a third forgotten feature in a drive-in triple feature. It’s obviously Soderbergh’s tribute to the movies he grew up watching.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure you’re not better off just watching the original inspirations.

Unsane is a kind of spooky mental health facility movie, a Kafka-esque nightmare of a normal woman being confined to a mental ward with no recourse, together with B-movie staples like crazy doctors, gratuitous violence (but not gratuitous nudity) and psychedelic hallucinations.

Yet, the seams are showing. The plot does not quite pass the smell test.

Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valenti, a financial analyst who took a new job far from her family after having been stalked by David (Joshua Leonard), a strange guy who she had met when she was a hospice nurse for his dying father. However, when David seemed to have followed her to the new city, Sawyer tries to sign up for a group which protects stalking victims. However, instead she mistakenly commits herself to a private mental health hospital, where she is locked away with a colorful group of insane patients.

And it turns out that David works at the hospital.


Of course, the more violently Sawyer insists that she is not crazy, the more crazy she looks, and the longer her commitment is extended. In the meantime, David’s insanity is becoming more obvious to her, as a series of bodies starts to pile up.

Technically, Unsane looks tremendous, particularly considering the fact that Soderbergh shot the film on iPhones rather than professional cameras. The acting is impressive and the film does have some really tense, suspenseful moments.

Yet, when it comes down to it, I just didn’t buy it. Unsane works better as an exercise than it does as a film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: March 23, 2018.

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