Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) in Unsane is a no-nonsense, numbers cruncher. She’s living in a new city, avoiding inappropriate advances from her new boss, and trying to settle into the “swipe left” nightlife…kind of. But a freak out during a date convinces her to get some help. Sawyer calls a local mental health clinic because her mind is playing tricks on her. She keeps “seeing” the stalker she fled Boston to escape. After admitting a few things that could be construed as suicidal ideations, Sawyer inadvertently signed herself into a psychiatric clinic’s mental ward on a 24-hour hold.
Unsane Lesson No.1: NEVER Sign Anything Without Reading Every Word
Things escalate when Sawyer refuses to settle down for the night. The next day, she finds out her stay is no longer voluntary. Now stuck in the mental ward for seven days after her sanity’s called into question, Sawyer’s hostile and belligerent. Her attitude just further convinces the staff she’s unstable.
Unsane Lesson No.2: Losing Your Shit in A Mental Ward Is a Quick Way to Get Stuck in Said Ward
The rest of Sawyer’s stay is rollercoaster of bureaucratic bait and switch, and flat-out lunacy (pun intended). A fellow patient Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah) tries to clue her into the insurance scam keeping her locked up and advises she keep her cool and ride it out. Ignoring his advice, a tightly wound Sawyer persists in pushing back with the staff.
In a twist you’re not sure isn’t just in her head, Sawyer swears her stalker works on the night shift. That’s when things get well, twisted. Because Unsane makes you question whether Sawyer’s actually losing it or if the danger’s real. And just when you’re convinced she’s exactly where her crazy ass needs to be, suddenly her claims and fears are proven all too real.
Unsane Lesson No. 3: Just Because No One Believes is No Reason to Drop Your Guard
Unsane takes a violent turn with the same abruptness that a casual conversation with a man can go severely left. Because Sawyer’s stalker (Joshua Leonard) really is working in the facility watching her every move and he has no intention of letting anyone come between them. Between one moment and the next, the relative safety of the populated mental ward is a minefield where its impossible to gauge what will set this guy off next or what he’ll do. Sawyer hangs on to her sanity by the skin of her teeth and Nate’s kindness. That kindness develops into a friendship that ultimately carries a high cost.
The second have of this film is the very definition of what the fresh hell and the story’s climactic moments don’t take the path expected. But, the ending is a far more likely consequence because there’s just no way anyone walks away from an experience like this unscathed.
Steven Soderbergh and his iPhone
Steven Soderbergh (also knowns as the director who doesn’t know how to actually retire) shot Unsane entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus and drone cameras. The result is a 70s-style B movie surrealistic – almost found footage – look that plays well with this tilted story. Although the raw, edgy feel wasn’t off-putting to me, it may be a deal breaker for viewers that favor a slicker visual presentation. I would’ve appreciated smoother editing and better lighting but the grimy feel worked well with the pace of this off-kilter story arc.
As the opening credits rolled, I muttered, “please let this be an actual horror movie.” The universe heard me this time because Unsane is a horror-thriller with just enough surprise to make one enjoyably disturbing ass film. Unsane will linger with you after the last shot.