Unsane **1/2

Steven Soderbergh’s first horror movie lets its foot off the gas just when it’s revving up. It’s good, but not as good as it could’ve been. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 


That’s the one word that repeatedly comes to mind when watching “Unsane,” a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until its traditional horror movie conclusion. What’s curious, though, is that the movie also seems intent on commenting upon health insurance, health care, and prescription medication, topics that director Steven Soderbergh first touched on in “Side Effects” (2013) and handles more subtly here. These elements don’t make or break “Unsane,” but they add a level of subtext beyond “is the main character crazy?”, and work well within the narrative.

Claire Foy, heretofore best known as Queen Elizabeth on “The Crown,” stars as Sawyer Valentini, a data analyst who recently moved away from Boston to avoid a stalker. Unpleasant, to be sure. She settled in Pennsylvania, and in the opening moments we get the standard scenes of her being competent at her job, hit on by her boss, and going on a blind date that goes well. Until it doesn’t. Not because the guy does anything wrong, though – she has a flashback to her stalker and the evening is ruined.

Sawyer seeks help at a mental hospital, and is involuntarily committed for seven days. Here’s where the critique of the health care system comes. One of the patients, Nate (Jay Pharoah), tells her (and us) that intake nurses look for the slightest reason to consider a person potentially dangerous to his/herself or others and, because they know health insurances will cover a seven day stay, bam they’re admitted. Once the seven days are up and insurance stops paying, wow they’re magically cured.

For Sawyer, though, her psychosis might be real. She accuses one of the orderlies, George Shaw (Joshua Leonard), of being David Strine, the man who stalked her in Boston. One of the joys of “Unsane” is figuring out how much is in Sawyer’s head and how much is real. One of the disappointments is that we’re not given more of an opportunity to figure it out; the reveal comes too early, and when it does it leads to a weaker third act than the film should have had.  

Still, there’s enough to keep us intrigued, and Foy is quite good. Those who only know her as the queen will see a totally different person on screen here, a sign that Foy is a legitimately talented actress who has a bright career ahead. Leonard, Pharoah, and Amy Irving as Sawyer’s mother are also strong in supporting turns.

There’s one issue that’s tough to reconcile about “Unsane,” however, and it has nothing to do with the plot. It’s that (presumably in an effort to keep the budget low, and experiment) Soderbergh shot the film using iPhone cameras, and the results look…amateurish. Given that those cameras are capable of 4K-widescreen resolution, there’s no reason for the film to look as cheap as it does. If the intention is to create an unsettling mood, the end result is unsuccessful.

This is the first horror/psychological thriller Soderbergh has made, and there’s enough good in “Unsane” to give it a look. No doubt if he makes another film of this genre it will be even better.

Did you know?
One of Soderbergh’s frequent collaborators – a big time movie star – has a cameo!

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