Steven Soderbergh is one of the most interesting directors working today. He’s the ultimate “One for them, one for me” director, easily gliding between mainstream projects like Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13 and more experimental films like the Solaris remake and The Girlfriend Experience. You may not always know what your going to get from a new Soderbergh film but you can almost always count on it being well made and worth your time. The key word in that last sentence is “almost”. Unfortunately, Unsane misses the mark and falls flat.
Soderbergh steps out on a limb with this movie in a couple of ways. It’s his first attempt at directing a horror film and he shot the thing entirely on an iPhone. This isn’t the first movie to be shot on an iPhone but it’s still a new enough thing that it gets mentioned in the press surrounding the film. It is also the first one that I have seen. Ultimately it didn’t affect the film one way or the other, the only difference that I noticed was in the aspect ratio and I don’t know enough about cameras to say that that was caused by the iPhone camera, it could have been a creative choice. Otherwise, the film looked great.
The story is where Unsane comes up short. It centers around Sawyer (Claire Foy) who is a young woman who has just moved 450 miles away from her friends and family in order to escape a man who has been stalking her. After moving she is lonely and unable to get her life back in order and she is still seeing her stalker everywhere she goes. She makes and appointment with a therapist and ends up being involuntarily committed to a psych ward. Once there she becomes convinced that her stalker is working at the hospital.
This creates a lot of tension and anxiety for both the character and the viewer. Leaving you to wonder if he really is working there or if she has created this situation in her mind. Is she being held there without reason or does she really need psychiatric care? Instead of building on this tension however, Unsane lets the air out of the balloon and becomes a basic thriller that we have all seen a thousand times and ultimately just feels like a letdown.
The one area of the film that is not a letdown is the performances. Everyone in the small cast does great work. Particularly Foy who plays Sawyer as equal parts strong woman and frightened girl. Joshua Leonard plays opposite her as her stalker (or is he?) and delivers a performance that works perfectly for the role. He manages to tiptoe the line between overly nice guy and super creepy guy so well the it keeps the viewer off balance until the story is ready to reveal which he is.
I wanted to love this movie, in the end I can’t even recommend seeing it. It starts off promising but winds up just an average thriller that, despite it’s 97 minute runtime, feels too long and just isn’t compelling.