Intense Foy Salvages “Unsane”
Steven Soderbergh is our most restless director. He’s done all-star epics (Ocean’s 11), socially relevant dramas (Traffic), Oscar-winning features (“Erin Brockovich), experimental films (“Bubble”) and has even retired from making feature films at the age of 50 only to return to them four years later. He shot his latest, “Unsane,” on an I-Phone over the course of ten days for less than a million dollars. Far more than a gimmick, the director’s approach underscores the filmmaking possibilities of accessible technology while the aesthetic inherent to the device lends itself to effective visual metaphors that underscore the plight of the movie’s heroine.
Claire Foy gives an exceptional performance as Sawyer Valentini, a woman on the run from her past. Having been the victim of a stalker, she’s moved to a new city and is doing her best to get off to a fresh start. While she likes her new job and the people who work there, she continues to be haunted by her experiences and consults a local psychologist. This is where her troubles really begin as during a session she inadvertently commits herself to a 24-hour observation period at the clinic that ultimately turns into an extended stay. To make matters worse, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard) is an employee at the institute…maybe.
Perception becomes a bit fuzzy at this point, as with Sawyer being drugged daily, we can’t be sure if what we see is true or a hallucination. The script by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer fails to explore this angle fully and ends up wasting an opportunity to effectively muddy the narrative waters with what could have been an effective psychological thriller. Instead, the answer to many of Sawyer and the viewer’s questions is answered too soon and the film becomes a serviceable exercise in suspense.
Soderbergh exploits the limitations of the I-Phone by employing many tight, intimate shots throughout to great effect. The claustrophobic nature of Sawyer’s plight and her internal struggles are effectively underscored by the numerous tight, close-up shots. Also, the lack of Hollywood artifice lends a more authentic quality to the movie, giving it a much-needed sense of reality and immediacy. Foy’s intensity and conviction in the role makes us overlook some of the script’s shortcomings as the actress delivers a performance “Unsane” doesn’t deserve but is all the better for.