Film Review: 'Unsane'
Leave it to Steven Soderbergh to be as innovative as ever; with Unsane, the visionary Traffic director brings home a cleverly creepy thriller flick that's impressively been entirely shot on an iPhone.
And Soderbergh serving as his own director of photography, that means Soderbergh himself might've been running around set with that iPhone - or multiple - either in his hands or cleverly placed on a dolly or other rig. It’d be a humorous sight, like a student film on a multimillion-dollar budget.
Even so, Unsane is not the first all-iPhone movie, nor will be be the last. But Soderbergh's is a uniquely impressive one, as it's the perfect way to get to know young professional Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, in a performance that's too big for a phone screen); incredibly personal and digestible. And it plays into the hand of the story very nicely.
Sawyer has moved to a new city and a new job, and finds a little bit of anxiety throughout her day, as if someone is following her. Attempting to find a semblance of a normal life peppered with Tinder dates here and there, she always pulls away in a panic as if her stalker has suddenly appeared before her. Plagued by her thoughts, she attends a therapy session and is suddenly held in a mental health facility against her will.
But as we learn throughout her interactions with doctors and fellow patients, maybe there's a reason she's there in the first place?
With the iPhone cinematography, our shots go from the delicately and expertly framed (Soderbergh considers himself a student of the art, and it definitely shows) to the dark and unsettlingly grainy. It's done in such a way as to add to the film’s tension instead of detract from it. Even if the cinematography style takes some getting used to, it eventually adds to the unease and creepiness of Unsane.
But to call this film "the iPhone movie" disregards just how effectively Soderbergh constructs this thriller. As Sawyer finds herself in predicament after predicament - especially those involving the wacky and volatile Violet (Juno Temple) - there are touches of reality and plausibility. One of these is through a friend(!) she's able to make in the facility: Nate Hoffman (an excellent Jay Pharoah) who seems to be comparatively normal. The film may be defined by the technology used to make it, but it is assuredly director- and character-driven.
Even with its iPhone shtick and decent performances, Unsane does takes up nearly half of its 98-minute run time to really get going, and its second half is infinitely more compelling than its first. Our exception is in watching Sawyer slowly come to the realization she's been trapped, and the moments where we put the pieces together with her are paradoxically stressful and satisfying.
Once the light bulb goes off in Sawyer's head, the pieces are finally set in place and Soderbergh gets right to work. And it’s some of the most captivating cinema you’ll see.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard..