Anyone else take a long, hard look at Steven Soderbergh’s catalog lately? There’s some whiplash-inducing genre juggling and I just eat it up. I know everyone has rented Contagion recently, his star-studded 2011 thriller that disturbingly mirrors the current pandemic in some ways, but a lot of his movies get overlooked and forgotten alongside titans like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy. I want to take a look at a recent one from 2018, a tiny movie that barely made a blip on anyone’s radar and I gotta say…you missed out.
I am talking, of course, about the 2018 film Unsane.
The film follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a woman that has moved a fair distance to escape a stalker. She’s still suffering a lot of trauma from the experience, jumping at shadows and struggling to make any personal connections that matter. She decides to go to counseling at Highland Creek Behavioral Center and is duped into signing a voluntary committal form, quickly learning that the hospital does this from time to time to make money from insurance companies. After meeting fellow inmate Violet (Juno Temple) and undercover reporter Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), she descends into a waking nightmare and learns that her stalker (Joshua Leonard) has infiltrated the hospital staff to continue coming after her.
Everyone has had that moment in their lives, the time when they are certain of something and no one will believe them. Unsane preys on this feeling, creeping up your spine to whisper in your ear that you’re wrong and that there’s something wrong with you. Sawyer grasps onto Nate, the only other person that has a grip on reality, and struggles to make it through her incarceration as the hospital milks her insurance dry. It’s uncomfortable and quite sad that this has been based on real situations, but the depravity she experiences at the hands of her stalker and at the hands of the staff blurs to become a melded situation. She’s drugged against her will, physically and verbally assaulted, and treated as an object by everyone around her.
This also speaks out to any women that have dealt with unwanted advances and a feeling of helplessness in their lives. As of the #MeToo movement, Hollywood got very involved in shining a light on the issues pushed on women in the industry and women at large. Sawyer’s safety from her stalker should be guaranteed in a mental hospital, but his infiltration leads this one, broken safety net to become rock bottom and she winds up with her back against the wall. It’s hard to come to grips with the idea that the only safety she could truly have from him is in a cage, but watching her navigate that challenge and overcome it is part of the point.
We have to talk about the way Soderbergh made this thing. The whole film was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus using the app FiLMiC Pro. There are times when you can tell the device isn’t really meant for this kind of work, outdoor shots at night where he’s unable to make it look like anything more than cellphone footage, but a lot of the interior shots are beautifully lit and blocked in a way that brings a lot of technical marvel to the imagery. The guy has no issue playing with his angles, his lighting, and his scenery in the image and using the cellular footage to his advantage.
I got lucky enough to see this in theatres when it was released. A buddy of mine was in town and we’d both been looking forward to it so we snuck off to catch a screening. I wish more people had seen it, but I understand that it was a curio for many and the novelty of how it was made didn’t appeal to everyone. Still, I urge you to give it a try and see what you think about it. The movie is worth your time, and I can’t wait for most of you to discover this wonderful little film.
Unsane is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.