Psychological thriller Unsane keeps us guessing

For a film shot entirely on an iPhone, this movie comes across as remarkably stark and often disturbing.

Indeed, Director Steven Soderbergh’s new ‘film noir’ does venture into quite confronting territory, as he outlines the story of Sawyer Valentini (skilfully played by Claire Foy of The Crown fame) – a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Convinced she is being stalked by a former acquaintance who worked in her dying father’s hospice, Sawyer leaves her family and friends to take on a new job as a data analyst in a strange city several hundred miles away.

Unfortunately, despite the move, Sawyer remains convinced her stalker has followed her and in a fit of paranoia, visits the Highland Creek Behavioural Facility to seek assurance she is not really going mad.

And this is where things start to get really interesting.

Evoking memories of the 1970’s mental institution classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sawyer is interviewed by Nurse Boles (superbly played by Polly McKie in a remarkably ‘Nurse Ratched’ type role).

When Sawyer appears to confess to having suicidal thoughts, Boles coolly asks her to sign a document, something Sawyer thinks is just committing her to more sessions.

However, the die has been cast, and it is not long before several large, white-coated orderlies appear, and lead her to a locked room.

The real decline begins here, as Sawyer becomes convinced one of the facility orderlies is actually her stalker.

It is a credit to Foy that Unsane’s loose and sometimes irrational plot does not degenerate into a horrific farce.

The spectre of mental illness is of course, not something to make light of, and it is only Foy’s totally committed and believable performance that saves the movie.

Sawyer’s mother, ably played by Amy Irving, is soon drawn into the fray, and while the stalker/orderly David Strine (Joshua Leonard) lurks in the background, Sawyer desperately seeks to be released from her living hell.

However, the authorities are soon given no option but to keep Sawyer in for a lot longer when she completely loses the plot – attacking several inmates and orderlies in a frustrated, but misguided, attempt to get out of the institution.

Her mother’s efforts to release Sawyer via legal means appear slow and ineffectual, while the spectre of the stalker continues to haunt Sawyer.

The film’s nightmarish climax may resemble something from a horror film but I would not classify this film as horror – more a psychological thriller.

In Unsane, Soderbergh also appears to satirise the sometimes nefarious and ‘money-grabbing’ world of the private medical facilities, insurers, and the short-term mental health care industry.

In a telling statement, fellow inmate and Sawyer’s friendly ally Nate Hoffman (played by an endearingly charming Jay Pharoah), points out that many of these places exist to lock sane people up for profit.

Therefore, the sooner you run out of funds, the sooner you are likely to be released, he says, which is a sad indictment on the mental health industry in general.

Claire Foy in Unsane




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