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Unsane Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Steven Soderbergh’s experimental horror-thriller is nothing more than that, an experiment! Entertainment-wise it fails due to the irritating camera work. .50.5.0

Genre: Horror / Thriller

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jaz Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving, Polly McKie, Zach Cherry, Colin Woodell & Sarah Stiles.

Run Time: 98 min.

US Release: 23 March 2018

UK Release: 23 March 2018

German Release: 29 March 2018

Steven Soderbergh is a mystery to many cinephiles. First, he quits filmmaking because he did not like where Hollywood was heading, then he returned from retirement last year with the heist-comedy flick Logan Lucky, stating that he will stay as long as he can make movies the way he envisions them. This year, he returned to the big screen, with a horror feature that was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7, stating that it is the future of filmmaking. Soderbergh was always a little eccentric but successful with his different movies, up until now because the question that keeps lingering in everybody's mind is; can a movie shot entirely on a smartphone be any good?

When Sawyer Valentini (Foy) relocates to Pennsylvania to escape from the man that is stalking her, her PTSD-triggered hallucinations force her to seek a therapist, for a free one-time consultation. The therapist suggests more counselling and Valentini unwittingly signs up for a 24-hour commitment at a mental institution. Her stay at the hospital turns into a nightmare when she identifies one of the staffers as her stalker David (Leonard).

First things first, this is a well-constructed psychological thriller, with solid horror elements. Writers Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer wrote the story from the perspective of a woman who went through a dreadful and frightening episode in her life, concentrating on how that experience can affect the human psyche. It also interweaves an intriguing subplot about clinics that offer free psychological consultation, simply to use further manipulative tactics and even fraud, to obtain money from the patients’ health insurances.

Sadly, that side-story is barely explored and simply resolved, once the main plot enters its last act with the audience left hanging in the open, never hearing about any legal outcome. Additionally, the misleading marketing of the trailers and posters made this look like a movie that plays with the main characters grip on reality, leading the audience to question whether this or that scene was real or just part of her imagination. A shame as it is nothing like that, as Sawyer’s hallucinations are revealed to be just that, straight after experiencing them. It is a disappointing aspect of the film since I expected something different from the advertisement.

Claire Foy portrays the main character, Sawyer Valentini, giving a terrific and very emotional performance that creeps up under the audience’s skin. Sawyer is a damaged young woman, traumatised by a horrible experience; she is sane but dealing with PTSD, which causes her to have hallucinations at times, though she knows these aren’t real. Foy manages to capture that aspect really well, making sure the audience know that her character is not completely crazy. This leads me to the main problem I have with the persona of Sawyer, as she starts acting erratic and hysterical once she gets thrown into the clinic, instead of keeping calm and proving that she is not insane. That deteriorating behaviour gets her further into trouble.

Joshua Leonard, who is best known for his role as “Josh” in The Blair Witch Project, gave an equally impressive performance as Foy. The way he portrays the twisted fantasy and loss of reality of David is truly unsettling. However, really impressive is how his simple presence already feels like a threat itself. It was nice to see Leonard been given a role with more depth, compared to the classless B-movie characters he obtained after Blair Witch.

Jay Pharoah is another great addition to the cast. He plays Nate Hoffman, a patient of the same clinic in which Sawyer is residing. Nate is more than he lets to believe the viewers at first sight, trying to help the main character get more comfortable during her stay in the ward. Juno Temple, on the other hand, portrays an absolute insane woman to perfection. Violet is psychotic, violent and a real danger to herself and others.

The cinematography is the biggest issue Unsane has and it’s one that really bumped the movie a few grades down for me. Soderbergh is known to experiment with his pictures and with this one he delivers a feature that is entirely filmed on an iPhone. It gives the movie an interesting documentative style, making it more personal due to the extreme close-ups that give the picture a claustrophobic feeling. The weird colour spectrum, though, hurts my eyes and the 4:3 aspect ratio became extremely irritating, especially watching it on a cinema screen. Finally, the constant fisheye-lens shots, in combination with the extreme close-ups took the last straw. I was unable to let myself be immersed in the story!

Unsane Poster

Verdict: I was terribly disappointed by Unsane, not because the movie did not deliver on what it promised since it mostly did, but because the technical aspects used, destroyed what could have been an exceptional psychological horror experience. While the story and characters are well developed for the largest part, the cinematography lacks any real depth, has harsh colour saturation and is uneasy on the eyes. The techniques used simply make it nearly impossible to concentrate on the plot, a shame because the actors give chillingly terrifying performances, especially Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard. As to Soderbergh’s claim that filming on smartphones is the future of the film industry, I cannot disagree more! If the future of movies is to look like this, I will probably give up watching them, because they are an uneasy experience to watch. If it hadn’t been filmed with a phone, this movie would have deserved an eight but as it stands, I will give Unsane a 5 out of 10.

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