Unretired and Unremarkable: A Review of “Unsane”

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In spite of enjoying a successful career throughout the first decade of the new millennium, acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh announced in 2012 that he would be retiring from filmmaking. This declaration didn’t last very long, as he returned from his hiatus just five years later with the very fun and underappreciated NASCAR heist thriller, Logan Lucky. While this was a definite return to form for the Academy Award-winning director of Traffic, Soderbergh’s second comeback feature, Unsane, isn’t nearly as successful.

Unsane (which is actually quite an awful title for a film) was created in secret sometime last year, having been shot entirely using iPhone 7 Plus cameras. And it is probably in this way that Unsane is most intriguing; not because of the narrative the film itself offers, but because of the bizarre story behind its unorthodox production. While Unsane may be rightfully billed as a psychological horror-thriller, the end result produces very few thrills, and the horrors that it retains are likewise disappointing.

The film’s greatest asset is lead actress Claire Foy, who stars as Sawyer Valentini, a young woman trying her best to make a decent living in a new city after she flees from her stalker back home in Boston. She’s smart and dedicated, yet still affected by the man that almost single-handedly ruined her life. From the start, we watch Sawyer through a brush of tree branches as she walks to her new job, and it becomes obvious that perhaps she never did escape her terrorizer. Sawyer remains to be visibly traumatized from her experience before leaving Massachusetts. She’s been seeing her stalker around town and often has hallucinatory visions of him as other men, ultimately leading her to seek counseling at Highland Creek Behavioral Center, where she becomes wrongfully admitted to its psychiatric ward.

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What is originally only a 24-hour stay quickly turns into a weeklong visit, and if that isn’t enough, Sawyer runs into her stalker posing as an orderly at the hospital under a different name. She’s convinced that it’s him, and incessantly pleas with the doctors that she doesn’t belong there. What remains unclear to the audience is whether it actually is her abuser that she’s seeing, or if she is just plain crazy.

Unfortunately, the story goes down some predictable routes toward its conclusion, and while there are some exciting moments and genuinely likeable side characters at various points, the film never comes together in a fully satisfying way. Unsane makes a surprising argument for micro-budget filmmaking, effectively saying that essentially anyone with a smartphone can make a feature-length film. As awesome as that notion may be, however, it’s the film’s all-too-familiar story, characters, and setting that keeps it from being anything more than a mere gimmick and deeply mediocre watch.

2.5 stars out of 5

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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