Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is being obsessively stalked by David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She files a restraining order, and relocates from Boston to Pennsylvania. She starts a new job as a data analyst in a bank, and is beginning a new life.
Except she sees David’s face everywhere. Lonely in a strange new place, she seeks out a support group for people affected by stalking. After a chat with a supportive counsellor, she finds herself being involuntarily sectioned. And things only get worse from there.
Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie falls into a number of the same traps that his similarly twisty psychological drama Side Effects (2013) did. Both try and wrongfoot the viewer with increasingly ludicrous plot contrivances, while simultaneously attempting to mount a weighty critique of the healthcare industry in America. But, as the final third of the newest escalates into a series of moments which strive to pull the rug out from under you, you find the narrative isn’t grounded firmly enough to do so; so both the story and its serious intentions fall away to nothing.
Unsane was shot entirely using an iPhone and like Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015) doesn’t suffer because of it. The angular compositions work well to establish mood with their accentuated foregrounds, brutally harsh light, and constant screen-wide focus. Claire Foy puts in a solid performance, even though her (beyond) ropey accent proves distracting. Joshua Leonard is suitably creepy as Strine, but it’s comedian Jay Pharoah as Nate, another patient, who’s the highlight: he steals every scene he’s in. However, there is a symphony of false notes. The writing and acting of all the bit parts – colleagues, police officers, the bureaucratic and medical staff of the facility, the fellow patients – is a collection of clichés.
As much as Unsane is an unsatisfying, boring even, seeing it in a busy, vocal cinema proves highly entertaining. The involuntary squirms, gasps and shouts of ‘Oh, Jesus!’ it elicits from the audience make the experience undeniably fun – unlike the movie itself.
Film reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox