“Unsane” is chilling, unsettling and experimental

Rating: 3.5/5 iPhones

Steven Soderbergh’s uncomfortable new film “Unsane” will leave audiences shaken, paranoid and deeply unsettled.

The film centers around Sawyer Valentini, played by Claire Foy, a young business woman who recently moved to Pennsylvania. For much of her adult life, Valentini has been tormented by a stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, who makes her paranoid and anxious everywhere she goes. She decides to sign up for a stalking victims support group at a local hospital. Without warning, Valentini becomes involuntarily admitted to the mental institution. Her situation is made even worse when she sees her stalker working at the institution. Viewers are left wondering if her stalker is actually there, or if he is an imaginary representation of Valentini’s mental turmoil and declining sanity.

While the concluding chapter of “Unsane” makes an unfortunate detour into horror movie cliches, Soderbergh has crafted a subversive, Hitchcockian thrill ride that will leave audiences glued to their seats through white-knuckle suspense and disturbing plot twists.

Much discussion surrounding the film has been based around Soderbergh’s decision to film the entirety of “Unsane” using an iPhone 7 Plus. While viewers might be skeptical, this directorial choice serves to amplify the film’s creepy atmosphere. Cinematic and technical excess is swapped in favor of claustrophobic close-ups of actor’s faces and a dreary, washed-out look which makes the film feel grounded in reality.

Valentini is a satisfyingly multi-layered character. While viewers feel the horror of her predicament and empathize with her troubled personal life, her impulsivity often leads her into a worse position than she started in. Nearly every attempt she makes to prove her sanity, often through violent outbursts, is perceived as insanity by the nurses and administration officials, who might or might not have dark agendas of their own.

Her situation, and the film itself, is always chilling. The plot takes numerous shocking, disturbing turns, never giving viewers enough time to catch their breath.

Foy gives an emotionally raw, committed performance as Valentini, demonstrating her character’s anxiety, vulnerability and diligence with straight-faced authenticity. Her performance keeps viewers invested in the film, even near the conclusion when the plot eventually becomes difficult to take seriously.

Even so, Soderbergh attempts to infuse numerous themes into the film, including mental stability, obsession, corruption in business and the concepts of truth and disbelief. While Soderbergh deserves to be commended for attempting to tackle so many themes in the film, many seem underdeveloped.

Certain ideas and potential themes established in the beginning of the film fail to develop into anything meaningful by the end, ultimately causing them to feel rushed and somewhat unnecessary.

Without spoiling anything, the film’s surprisingly conventional plot twist in the last third betrays some of the mystery and psychological intrigue set up earlier, repeating cliches that have already been done to death in other films.  

For fans of psychological horror or anyone who’s intrigued by experimental cinema, “Unsane” is definitely recommended, though it is not without notable problems.