Unsane

unsaneI’m not at all sure what I thought about this one: underwhelmed, I think, is the safest way to put it. Very likely a film more notorious for having been shot with an iphone 7 rather than any particular merit in the film itself, this is directed by Steven Soderbergh and possibly represents what modern Hollywood thinks is guerilla filmmaking. I suppose it’s experimental nature is to be commended with so few chances being taken in film these days, but not sure how much of any risk was being taken when television commercials possibly cost more to make than this ‘film’ did.

The premise is intriguing- an unhinged young career woman, Sawyer Valentini (a typically fine performance from Claire Foy) is finding it increasingly difficult to function in normal society having suffered the trauma of being stalked (and possibly abused) by a man a few years before. She opts for what she thinks is the first of a series of therapy sessions at a mental health clinic but signs on the wrong dotted line and realises to her horror that she has been tricked into voluntarily committing herself to 24 hr observation in the clinic. When she panics and causes trouble, injuring someone in her attempts to get out, her stay gets extended to seven days. Another patient tells her the clinic is operating a scam to rinse money from health care insurance and that she’ll only ever get out when the insurance money dries up. Of course, her confidant is also a patient so might himself be crazy or untrustworthy, but Sawyer’s nightmare heightens when she  recognises one of the clinics orderlies as the man who stalked her years ago, and he now has her trapped with nowhere to go…

Yeah on the preposterous scale of one to ten this is stretching nine – the only saving grace that keeps the film moderately absorbing is the suggestion that Sawyer may indeed by crazy and we are not ‘seeing’ everything via a reliable narrator, but as the film starts to slip into ever-sillier horror tropes and twists it’s inevitable to conclude that its the whole film that unreliable, not Sawyer.

I will say that the film at its best, mostly due to the low-rent ‘look’ of the production had a suggestion of 1980s horror films from David Cronenberg, particularly Rabid. The stilted acting or unrehearsed feel of some of the scenes really had that early-1980s direct-to-video ‘feel’ shared by so many horror VHS tapes back then. This is always, of course, subtly undermined by having a star like Foy in the lead- I think it would have been better served by having an unknown in the lead, but Foy is very good and possibly holds the film together so I can understand the counter-argument with her casting.

I have noted before, its curious when mainstream or ‘sophisticated’ directors have a go at the horror genre, as if trying to elevate it somehow.  It doesn’t always work and I suspect that this genre, likely looked down upon by the more arthouse cineastes such as Soderbergh as beneath their station, has claimed another victim here.

6 thoughts on “Unsane

  1. Pingback: The 2019 List: July – the ghost of 82

  2. I don’t like everything Soderbergh does, but at least I always find it interesting (except, perhaps, Ocean’s Thirteen). I quite enjoyed this one on the whole, undoubtedly imperfect as it is.

    I do wish he’d stop shooting stuff on iPhones, though. I read an interview where he said something along the lines of shooting on a phone was now his default and there’d need to be a specific reason for him to use other equipment. Here it was kind of effective, and High Flying Bird looked better than I expected, but both retain a sort of shot-on-a-Phone sheen, and neither look as good as well-shot real film/digital.

    1. I don’t get it though- what does filming with an iphone get you that shooting with ‘proper’ digital camera, or on film doesn’t? Certainly on the basis of Unsane, I can’t discern any advantage or uniqueness (if anything the quality of the night/dark shooting showed definite disadvantages). Maybe if he was shooting a series of 1-hour shorts for Netflix, say, an anthology show, I could understand.

      1. I think it’s very much to do with the flexibility of the phone, i.e. it’s small size, rather than the quality of the images it produces. It also enables him to edit really quickly, though I don’t see why that should be a problem with any digital format.

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