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Unsane

Year: 2018
Production Co: Extension 765
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Jonathan Bernstein/James Greer
Cast: Claire Foy, Josh Leonard, Amy Irving, Jay Pharaoh

I didn't know anything about this film except the behind-the-scenes story about how it was all shot on iPhones, but it turned out to be about the fifth movie I've watched in as many months which gives away what feels like its gigantic, plot-shifting twist too early and with not nearly enough narrative power.

It went in different directions from those it seemed to set up, and while that's usually a good thing because the superhero/sequel/blockbuster formula has us so well trained to know exactly what's coming, here it just felt like the script ran out of ideas and didn't have the courage of its 'is the hero insane or not?' convictions. It answers that question far too early and turns into a pretty generic thriller, abandoning the tone the poster and trailer seemed to set up.

Sawyer (Claire Foy) is an average young women with a job and a newly minted social life in a new city, and we don't really have any idea of the darkness in her history until she meets a Tinder date. After telling the guy she intends to take him home and sleep with him whatever happens, she then flips out when the heavy petting starts, panicking and locking herself in her bathroom until he leaves.

She goes to a local mental health facility to talk about the problem with a therapist – it seems she was the victim of a psychopathic stalker who terrified her so much she had to move to another city entirely.

The kindly administrator who interviews her tells Sawyer the forms she's signing are just routine, but when a nurse asks the young woman to follow, the tone of the treatment turns. Told sternly to give up her phone and get undressed for an examination, it turns out Sawyer has unwittingly committed herself to an asylum for 24 hours. When she argues and finally threatens to be let go, the incarceration is extended for 'her own good', Sawyer finding herself trapped.

The idea in the film's marketing seemed to be all about how she might really be insane, seeing things and second guessing herself all over the place, but it goes in two directions I frankly found kind of silly. The first is that – while I won't spoil it here – the main thing Sawyer's terrified about which is making her wonder if she's actually losing her marbles turns out to be completely true, rendering the whole premise about her crumbling mental state a bit redundant.

The second is when she befriends fellow inmate Nate (Jay Pharoah), who takes her into his confidence and tells her the truth about the place she's found herself locked up in – something similarly unrelated to her crumbling grip on reality.

So is it a corporate healthcare conspiracy? A story about a potentially dangerous psycho on her trail? A woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown? It's all that, and having it in the same movie just causes everything to water everything else down too much.

You could say it's all just a narrative framework upon which to hang the relationship between the camerawork and the lead character's mood (and Soderbergh does some interesting things with angles and viewpoints that effectively convey a sense of unease) but that just makes it a cinematographer's showreel. As a story it needed to concentrate more on the USP.

And while you might expect the low-tech production to show itself through set pieces or even sequences that showcase iPhone filters or fish-eye lens effects, the very fact that the devices have such high quality cameras renders them a bit invisible. Before too long you don't even think about it.

Like I've said before, Soderbergh couldn't make a bad movie if he tried, and with any kind of camera in his hand he doesn't put a foot wrong. I like to think he was more interested in that aspect of it all than of the script on the page, because the story leaves more than a bit to be desired.

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