Running Time: 98 minutes
Written by: Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Featuring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, and Amy Irving
Sawyer Valentini: “I’m not fucking crazy!”
Steven Soderbergh is back with a new movie, released this week on DVD and Blu-ray only five years after he famously said he would not direct any more film’s, to focus on other endeavours. Those endeavours turned out to be a television show “The Knick” (2014-2016), ending after two seasons, so it was not long before he was back behind the camera with the excellent heist comedy movie “Logan Lucky” (2017) which was a small box office success but more importantly it was a critical success with the promise of more to come. Much like a previous Soderbergh film, the underrated “Side Effects” (2013) which commented not only on the medical community but drugs in general, this new movie does something similar but with more of the thriller genre overlayed as well as being set in one main location, it still does inform the audience on how quickly someone’s life can change when many of their choices are removed, in a most insidious way. This is what Soderbergh does so well, which shows in all his best films, even when critics and audiences misunderstand some of those films the first time around. That’s why its refreshing to see Soderbergh get behind a movie that is a thriller built around social commentary, as well as making a point to the rest of Hollywood, by directing a movie with a micro budget that is released in cinemas worldwide, he is a director that is always bucking the system one way or another.
“Unsane” is co-written by Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer who have come up with what could be seen as a perfect low budget thriller with an inside look at not only mental illness but the perceived reaction to mental illness as well as the medical insurance industry, and ways in which the medical community is not about caring but about cash flow, that it seems administrators are in charge of patient care, not the medical establishment themselves. This script is such a step up for the duo, who after creating pretty bland broad comedies that have not resonated, they now they have something that is not only heavy hitting, but makes a comment in a way they have never done before, of course there is the fact that Steven Soderbergh is behind the movie which is a huge asset. The only thing better than seeing a Soderbergh film, is seeing one with a micro budget, it pushes the director as well as streamlines the narrative in a way that is not done in Hollywood movies. The other thing that is a positive is that the lower the budget the more of the director’s vision is seen, and with a Soderbergh movie he really is the driving force as not only director, but also as cinematographer, editor and producer. There is no other director working today who does what Soderbergh does, not only that but he is still in his prime as a director with I believe his best work is yet to come even though he has had an amazing career so far.
“Unsane” is based around Sawyer Valentini, a troubled woman who moves away from home to escape a stalker. Sawyer finds she is still triggered by interactions with men to her memories of her stalker. She makes an appointment with a counselor at Highland Creek Behavioral Center. At her appointment, she unknowingly signs a release voluntarily committing herself to spend 24 hours there. She calls the police but they do nothing when they see the signed release. After physical altercations with a patient and a staff member, Dr. Hawthorne says she is being kept for seven more days.
This movie has a very special central performance by the lead Claire Foy who is known for her television role in “The Crown” (2016-2017) but who has been making movies as well as other television projects for a number of years, but now with such a high profile in the US as well as around the world is now trying to distance herself from her breakout role by taking very different parts. In “Unsane” Foy has to play a character on many different levels as well as take a role like few seen in cinema before, she is a victim in her own story who has to accept her fate, while at the same time becoming the hero in her own story all the while balancing her fragile mindset, we as the audience actually forget why she was seeking help in the first place, that is until the very end which is masterfully directed as well as acted.
There are other acting highlights within the movie, the highlights of which are the criminally underused Amy Irving as the mother who while having limited screen time defies what could have been a trope laden character and shows why she was such a presence in American cinema. The other two performances of note are Jay Pharoah and Juno Temple as fellow inmates who both play very different roles in the movie but are both excellent character actors that interact with their surroundings uniquely especially for a movie like this that has very honestly motivated characters, there are no twists what you see with each one is what you get.
This is primarily a thriller about a person stuck in one location being held against her will but in a strange turn of events, legally which is a dichotomy that she has to solve. Thrown into the mix are another few elements which I will not spoil but do not disappoint at all, in fact the audience is held in a state of tension for almost the entire movie which is something to behold, Soderbergh playing Hitchcock in his own way, exploring a genre that he has not really visited before which is again extremely refreshing especially for a director of his stature.
The final thing to say is the look of this movie is almost unique amoung cinema releases with some very explicit lighting within the asylum which is juxtaposed to the lighting on the outside, with almost an overexposed look versus a look straight out of a paranoid horror movie. Soderbergh has once again set himself up as his own cinematographer, utilising an iPhone 7 to shoot this project which does look incredible just as it should with a signature of low angles that take advantage of long hallways as well as using deep focus in some cases to make the movie look ‘bigger’ than it actually is.
“Unsane” is one of those rare movies that because of the performances, the story and the production talent really does hold up under repeat viewings on either DVD or Blu-ray but I would suggest the latter as the lighting really plays a large part which a clearer picture picks up a lot better in terms of quality.
“Unsane” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.