Review of Netflix movie 'Unsane'

July 05, 2020

‘UNSANE’ is a psychological horror flick filmed by Director Steven Soderbergh using a mere Iphone. It might be small budgeted since he himself is the cinematographer and editor, but its quality as an effective thriller is definitely topnotch. It stars one of the finest actresses working today, Claire Foy, whose work we totally enjoyed in such films as “First Man” and “The Girl in Spider’s Web”, and in the mini-series “Wolf Hall” where she played Anne Boleyn and two seasons of BBC’s “The Crown” where she is the young Elizabeth II. She’s Brit so here, she tries to speak with a clipped American accent.

In “Unsane”, she plays Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who left her home in Boston to escape from a deadly stalker. She has found a new and promising job in Pennsylvania where her boss seems to be making advances on her. But as a result of her unnerving experience with the stalker, she cannot really interact satisfyingly with men. 

She then consults a counselor in a psychiatric hospital called Highland Creek Behavioral Center, but this leads to something she will surely regret. She’s not aware she has signed up a form where she agreed to stay in the hospital voluntarily for 24 hours, so she was so shocked when they ask her to strip and she won’t be allowed to go home anymore. 

Of course, she freaks out and after having arguments where she strikes someone, she’s told she’ll now be staying in the hospital for seven days. A friendly patient in her ward, Nate (Jay Pharoah), tells her the hospital tricks people into committing themselves, so they can milk the patient’s health insurance claims for profit. When the payment of the insurance provider runs out, the patient is miraculously cured and sent home.

To her horror, Sawyer sees her former stalker, David (Joshua Leonard), now working as an attendant named George in the hospital. She complains about this, but no one would believe her that George is her stalker who has infiltrated the hospital. They dislike her loud protestations and she gets sedated.

We don’t want to reveal any more details about the narrative as it will be a big spoiler. Suffice it to say that, at first, you cannot fully believe if Sawyer is really telling the truth or is she just losing her sanity? Is there really a sexual predator or is he just a mere figment of her imagination? 

But take note that when you watch the film, in the opening scene, we hear the voice over narration of an unseen man declaring that his love for someone who, for him, is more like just an object, has made him see the world in an entirely new way. Don’t forget this scene as you watch the movie, which has a smartly written script that succeeds in keeping our interest on screen from start to end.

Soderbergh’s direction shows a new visual style with his new toy, the iPhone that is just perfectly suited for a film about someone who is trapped. You can see not a shot is wasted and the visual economy is just lean and mean to give each claustrophobic scene an intensity and immediacy that quickens the viewer’s pulse. 

Claire Foy delivers a very committed performance as the beleaguered heroine. She’s in about 90 percent of the movie and she rises to the challenge with a daring, complex portrayal that never goes over the top.  

The film ends with a chilling sequence showing that the experience of being stalked and harassed leaves so much of a lasting impact on the victim that she is never really freed from its trauma and stress. “Unsane” maybe considered as a B movie thriller for this genre filmmaking but remember, Soderbergh is the young filmmaker who  kickstarted his career in 1989 with the acclaimed trendsetting “sex, lies & videotape” and won the Oscar for “Traffic”. He has announced before that he’s retiring, but obviously, filmmaking can be addictive and he remains to be on the top of his game.