Monday, October 17, 2022

#2,840. Unsane (2018)


Always the experimental filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh (Sex Lies and Videotape, Traffic) shot the entirety of his 2018 thriller Unsane with an Apple iPhone. Of course, this alone does not a good film make; if the characters aren’t believable, and the story isn’t engaging, no amount of gimmickry will be enough to keep an audience’s attention.

Fortunately for Soderbergh, he cast one hell of an actress as his lead, and her character’s plight is engaging enough to keep us poised on the edge of our seat throughout.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is trying to get her life back on track. The victim of a persistent stalker named David (Joshua Leonard), she has done everything she can to put that terrifying ordeal behind her. Alas, the memory continues to haunt her.

In an attempt to deal with the trauma, Sawyer visits a psychiatric facility. But instead of helping, they have her sign a few papers, then commit her against her will with the intent of keeping her there for seven days (at which point her insurance money will run out). X Angry and frustrated, Sawyer lashes out at the caretakers, only to see her worst fears come true when her stalker suddenly turns up… as one of the clinic’s orderlies!

Played superbly by Foy, Sawyer is not always a likable character. In fact, throughout the first half of Unsane, we don’t like her very much at all. She is standoffish with her co-workers, mistrusts her boss, and seems to suffer a nervous breakdown during a blind date, inviting the guy back to her apartment then rushing off when he tries to kiss her.

Even when she’s admitted to the facility, Sawyer’s attitude (though understandable) is abrasive, and we soon find ourselves tiring of her tantrums and theatrics. Fellow patient Nate (Jay Pharoah) offers Sawyer some advice, telling her to keep her head down and the seven days will go by much more smoothly. But she ignores him, and argues constantly with nurses, orderlies, and fellow patient Violet (Juno Temple), who occupies the bed next to hers. Needless to say, we aren’t rooting for Sawyer early on, not even when her mother (Amy Irving) gets involved and tries to secure her release.

But then something happens to alter our perception of both Sawyer and her mental state, and we begin to sympathize with her. Sawyer’s personality hasn’t changed in the least; she’s still very aggressive. But a flashback to when David first began stalking her, followed immediately by a meeting with a security advisor (Matt Damon) whose best advice is she “drop off the grid” and go into hiding, helps bridge the gap between character and audience. All at once, we understand Sawyer’s anger and paranoia, and we go from rolling our eyes at her antics to rooting like hell for her.

Joshua Leonard is sufficiently creepy as the stalker who is convinced that he and Sawyer were meant to be together, and both Pharoah and Irving are excellent in supporting roles, but it’s Foy who delivers the film’s finest performance, portraying a frightened yet determined woman who, for better or worse, never backs down from a fight.

Captured so well by Soderbergh’s iPhone (which allowed him to get up close and personal with his lead), Foy’s portrayal of Sawyer goes a long way in making Unsane the riveting, nail-biting thriller that it is, a movie guaranteed to keep you on pins and needles right up to its final scene.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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