Film Review – ‘Unsane’ (2018)

Release date: OUT NOW on DVD/Download
Rating: ★★★1/2

The Crown’s Claire Foy brings undeniable star power to Steven Soderbergh’s edgy, experimental psychological thriller for the smartphone era. Although it unravels a little on further reflection, it’s a clever, surprising and ultimately satisfying study of obsession and the demons that haunt us.

Almost thirty years after he launched onto the film scene with his shocking low budget debut ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’, Steven Soderbergh is back with his latest film ‘Unsane’, another unsettling exploration of voyeurism and a return to the more experimental filmmaking that began his career. Everything from the story to the music feels like a nod to the tense psycho-thrillers that came before it.

The film follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, who’s clearly having a blast), a beguiling young city worker with a dark past, embarking on a fresh start in a new city. But it isn’t long before her problems (and seemingly the man who stalked her) start catching up with her. When Sawyer is admitted to a facility and fears that her stalker has returned, she soon finds herself in a rapidly escalating nightmare – where the lines between reality and fiction become blurred.

Soderbergh isn’t setting out to rewrite the rulebook on psychological thrillers with ‘Unsane’, but there is plenty of evidence of his trademark flourishes on show. In a time where glossy Hollywood thrillers have become the norm, Soderbergh opts for a more unconventional approach (the film was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus) that makes the whole thing feel that much more sinister. It might have been shot on a shoestring but ‘Unsane’ is anything but boring to look at – in keeping with Soderbergh’s impressive track record (everything from ‘Magic Mike’ to ‘Erin Brockovich’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven’), it’s full of great scenery, and he uses the shadowy facility to full effect in the run up to the incredibly claustrophobic climax.

The story itself explores familiar territory, meaning that there’s the inevitable ‘penny drop’ moment where what’s really happening all falls into place, but there’s still more than enough tension throughout to keep viewers engaged to the conclusion.

Much of this is down to Foy’s magnetic performance as the central heroine whose flaws are as deep-rooted as the scars she carries from her traumatic stalking experience. Her role is anything but one note, as Foy’s Sawyer is eccentric, cold and acerbic. Her feuds and friendships with the other inmates in the facility is a particular highlight, full of comedic touches that break up the tension. There are more than a few intriguing twists and turns in their interactions and they serve for some of the film’s most riveting scenes.

It’s a shame that some of the more generic genre tropes win through at points, particularly in the film’s final thirty minutes, where developments occur thick and fast without sufficient time for their impact to register.

But despite this, Soderbergh’s throwback thriller ultimately wins you over, providing a fascinating, unusual protagonist and real edge-of-your-seat moments that will leave you unsettled long after it’s all over.

Alex Straker

Thriller, Mystery | USA, 2018 | 15 | Out Now | 20th Century Fox HE | DVD, Blu-ray, Download | Dir.Steven Soderbergh | Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Sarah Stiles, Marc Kudisch

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