Unsane [Review by SpecialK]
My favorite podcast lives by one motto: f*** politeness. No, it’s not some mean girls’ retort to Emily Post, but it’s a little reminder that if a situation seems sketchy and you feel uncomfortable, get outta Dodge, even if the weirdo you’re staring at might think you’re rude or overreacting. Aka, trust your gut.
Yes, the podcast also just so happens to be titled My Favorite Murder (shoutout to all you Murderinos out there), and is hosted by two hilarious women sharing their fascination with story after story of victims who have failed to heed that precious advice. But in a world flooded with research proving time and time again that women are less confident in themselves and question their own abilities more frequently than men, and at a time when an entire movement’s hashtag is based on a “I’m not crazy, it’s not just me, right?” gut check, perhaps it comes as no surprise that we can’t be reminded often enough to trust our instincts.
This is exactly where Unsane hits home. I can’t promise that dudes who roll their eyes at #metoo will suddenly see the light after watching this film, nor can I promise that it shatters our preconceptions about horror as effectively as Get Out does, but I can at least say that if you’re a woman who has ever questioned your intuition, you’ll nod gratuitously, terrifyingly, and satisfyingly at this film. In other words, perhaps Unsane is exactly the type of film we need to see more of in our post-Weinstein Hollywood.
Unsane opens as we follow (yes, creepily) the seemingly mundane life of a smart young woman named Sawyer Valentini, who the film seems to suggest is a bit too confident for today’s more traditional corporate America. Valentini is played by the regal Claire Foy, and although Foy’s British accent bleeds through her dialogue a bit too frequently for me to fully praise her performance, her acting is otherwise quite spot-on. After suffering a subtle-but-shudder-inducing come-on from her boss, Valentini presses on with her life, trying to have a nice night out with a cute boy. But some sort of past trauma seems to catch up with her, she freaks out, and she needs to take some meds. To nip this panic attack in the bud, she decides to sit down with a counselor the next day.
But after filling out routine paperwork and asking to book another counseling session, she finds herself inadvertently voluntarily committed to a mental institution—is there even such a thing, you ask? Apparently yes, and get this: we have health insurance companies to blame. Or maybe that’s just the ramblings of one of Valentini’s committed peers, Nate? As a side note, Nate is played delightfully by Jay Pharoh, who in this film poises himself to perhaps once and for all step out of the shadow of his own overwhelmingly successful impersonations on SNL.
As if that weren’t enough, Valentini soon realizes that her former stalker has tracked her across the country and taken up a job at the mental institution just to get close to her—or is she seeing people who aren’t there? But the more people she warns, and the more she tries to fight back, the longer it seems she will have to stay locked up. Will her mom be able to break her out? Is she actually losing her mind? And my God, what is the state of mental health care in this country?
Dear readers, let me stop myself here before I give too much away, because you’ve gotta see this one for yourselves. But truly, this film is a thrill. Hats off to director Steven Soderbergh—who has at times delivered unexpectedly deep, chilling, and even to some, splendid films, but who has also been inconsistent.
In Unsane, Soderbergh fully and effectively sends shudders through the audience by delicately playing with inquisitive, low-angle camera shots, fisheyed views, and lasting images of pedophile-like faces masked in dark shadow—oof, I just gave myself chills remembering those scenes. Throughout the film, Soderbergh rides our self-doubt hard, leaving us questioning whether Valentini is either truly off her meds, or part of the most elaborate stalking scheme the world has ever known. But perhaps what’s even more shocking, and what every other film review will probably tell you (good marketing, Soderbergh, I’ll bite), is that this film was shot largely on an iPhone. Surprised? Perhaps we shouldn’t be by a heavy hitter who fakes retirement only to deliver a hit Cinemax show and even later, this gem of a film.
SpecialK Verdict: For horror thrill-seekers and traditional cinephiles alike, if you appreciate a creatively-shot film and a strap-in-for-a-wild-ride type of story, see Unsane – the movie Mother! wishes it could have been.
Unsane opens Friday, March 23.