"Unsane" gives just enough as Foy shines
So, Steven Soderbergh shot an entire movie on an iPhone. Cool. The decision to use the device means less now that our decidedly uncool uncle did it. There’s a certain rebellious nature to shooting a feature-length film on an iPhone when it’s out of necessity, but an Academy Award-winning director choosing to shoot on an iPhone? Just because he can? Purposefully making his film look worse as some kind of pastiche?
So, whatever. “Unsane” looks bad because Soderbergh wants it to and you’ll eventually get used to it. That’s part of the art, I guess. I want to believe it helps set the tone of the film, which thrusts you into the same sense of blended anxiety and fear Sawyer feels for the entire 98-minute runtime. That’s not entirely true, because Soderbergh, while a talented filmmaker, isn’t great at empathy.
Sawyer unwittingly checks herself into a mental health clinic that stands in for everything wrong with the United States for-profit healthcare industry. That’s right in Soderbergh’s wheelhouse and when James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein’s script stays on message, it’s very good. Unfortunately, “Unsane” is unfocused at times, particularly in the way it portrays its heroine.
The film doesn’t allow you to empathize with Sawyer for far too long because it wants you to become entranced with a mystery that shouldn’t exist in the first place. This isn’t “Shutter Island” at all, despite what the marketing materials want you to believe. Sawyer sees her stalker everywhere, including the hospital she’s trapped inside, but she never doubts her own sanity.
Soderbergh’s indecision as an editor creates two films on the cutting room floor — one that paints Sawyer as someone in desperate need of medical care, and the other as a victim who needs to escape a dangerous place. Claire Foy’s performance helps (her Boston accent … less so), but in a film ostensibly about battling the system there should never be a moment the audience isn’t on Sawyer’s side.
We get scene after scene of Sawyer seeing her stalker in the hospital, the same man, mind you, while hospital staff and attendants assure her that this man is someone completely different. It's not particularly convincing, and this routine becomes tedious in short order. It's not much of a mystery at all, and if anything, feels like filler in a film that never truly goes off the rails like it so badly wants to.
While the first act lags, things really get going in the finale. Foy takes over the film in a series of long takes opposite her stalker that leave an indelible impression. If the opening of the film leaves something to be desired, the closing leaves you with an incredible taste in your mouth. That’s why, for its flaws, “Unsane” is a project that gives just enough.