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Unsane review - A disturbing thriller that's too dark for its own good


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Unsane is an unsettling psychological thriller that's remniscent of another Steven Soderbergh movie, Side Effects (2013) - except Unsane skews much darker, which ends up hurting it in the end. 

In a 2017 Reddit AMA promoting his then upcoming movie Logan Lucky (2017), Steven Soderbergh was asked for advice by someone interested in making an indepedent film. His answer - "Get a script and an iPhone and start shooting. Seriously."

Soderbergh's latest directorial effort is proof that he puts his money where his mouth is, as Unsane was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus, something which is bound to be a cornestone of the promotion and conversation surrounding the movie.

Does it pay off? Unsane's style can be a bit jarring at first, with some noticeably odd angles and such, but it pretty quickly settles into a nice groove. It's not shot from the perspective of someone's iPhone or anything like that - it's just a very professionaly made low-budget film. If Soderbergh wanted to make a statement about what a filmmaker can do with just a smartphone, he certainly suceeded.

The story follows Sawyer Valentini (The Crown's Claire Foy), an up-and-coming business woman who seeks out counselling for victims of stalking. Unfortunately, she ends up being involuntarily submitted in a mental institution.

Early on, one of the movie's biggest question marks is whether or not Sawyer is truly unwell. Are her anger and violent outbursts the justified behaviour of someone frustrated with their predicament, or a sign that she clearly needs therapy? Is her growing fear that her stalker is still after her rational? 

Claire Foy gives an excellent performance that finds the right balance between reasonably and irrationally upset. It's not easy to emotionally invest in a character that keeps you at arm's length like that, but she pulls it off.

Unsane keeps you guessing for a while and for the most part, it succeeds at making you question exactly what's going on. This reminded me of Side Effects, which was really good at playing mind games and making you question the sanity of its characters. 

Side Effects did a better job though, as once you do find out what's going on, you also begin to see the strings holding the whole thing together. For the sake of keeping this review spoiler-free, let's just say that Sawyer's behaviour at times comes across as contrived. 

In other words, sometimes actions play out a certain way seemingly just to make you second-guess yourself, rather than as something the character might really do, given what's really going on. 

It is quite difficult to talk about Unsane's story in detail, since the reveal isn't an ending twist, but something of a halfway point. The story reframes itself once you find out the truth and becomes a different kind of thriller that's also quite effective and disturbing. 

Unsane is a timely movie in many respects, as it tackles sexual harrasment and the unfair pressure women are put under because of the behaviour of awful men. One of the movie's more striking scenes has a male security expert tell Sawyer what she has to do to keep herself safe from her stalker.

The absurd lengths to which she has to change her life and daily routine just because of some creep is chilling. A later scene in which Sawyer has finally had enough also rightfully calls out the unfair expectations and ridiculous fantasies men project onto women. 

Unfortunately, the movie's topicality doesn't always work in its favor. Both the ending and ultimate fate of several characters is quite dark, unpleasant, and even unsatisfying. Obviously, there's no rule that says a movie should always have a happy ending, but this is one instance in which it might have been for the best.

Get Out, for instance, famously had an alternate ending that's much darker and more depressing, with writer/director Jordan Peele deciding to change it in the aftermath of Donald Trump becoming president. The new context simply made the original ending too dark, which is how Unsane ends up coming across as.

In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Unsane is somehow both well and poorly timed. It's an effective, engrossing psychological thriller that will most likely leave you in too foul a mood - and that's a shame.

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