Film Review: Unsane

Steven Soderbergh is back with another exercise in genre, this time a thriller sort of thing, and the results are an absolutely fantastic and perfectly executed film.

The film follows Sawyer, a young woman who has just moved to a new city, and seems to be escaping from something in her past. She is putting up a front of a smile to just about everyone in her life, and when she feels particularly down one day she seeks out some counseling help. The clinic is a bit off the beaten path, but the counselor is kind and quite a good listener. As she tries to set up another appointment, Sawyer is asked to fill out some extra paperwork and subject herself to a brief exam, only to slowly realize she is being committed to the hospital’s psychiatric holding ward. It only gets crazier, no pun, from there.

There is much talk about how Soderbergh shot this film on an iPhone, and you can tell, but the otherness of the presentation is also a choice that lends itself to the material. This could happen to anyone and be captured all on your phone! Don’t be confused though, the film isn’t a found footage/handheld affair, Soderbergh finds a number of great shots and angles, making the film quite easy to look at, even if you can tell there is a sacrifice in visual quality.

Soderbergh is a great cinematographer, no matter the medium, but his editing here is what really makes the film sing. Everyone involved in this picture knows exactly what kind of film they are making, a fun and twisted ride into the depths of the seemingly possible, and Soderbergh’s pacing and rhythm here just keep you on the edge of your seat. The film does a great job of keeping you guessing on Sawyer’s mental state, until it doesn’t, but even once that guessing game is over, the horror only becomes more real.

The cast has a few familiar faces in it, but Claire Foy is the stand out here, as she is incredible as our lead Sawyer. She shows so much range, isn’t afraid to be a bad person, and perfectly captures the mindset of someone who is put in psychiatric treatment when they think/know nothing is wrong with them. There is one scene late in the film, where she just tears into another character, that was one of my favorite things I’ve seen in a film this year. Joshua Leonard is also perfect in his role, but I don’t want to get into that for the sake of spoilers. Jay Pharoah pops up in the first thing I’ve seen him in since SNL and he also just nails his role in the film. He is the other sane person in the film, but there is more to him as well that will keep you guessing. Lastly, Juno Temple gets to have a lot of fun as another patient in the film, and her back and forth with Foy is some of the best stuff in the film.

Unsane was a blast to watch and Soderbergh executes the pulpy premise with care and precision. He does a great job of telling this story with tension, but never forgetting to have fun, while layering the film with nods and clues that will most likely benefit from rewatches. That said, Unsane is fantastic as it is and Claire Foy should be remembered as giving one of the best performances of the year once things are all said and done.

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