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By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com
originally published: 03/22/2018
“Your phone is your worst enemy!” So advises a cameoing Matt Damon’s cop to Claire Foy’s stalking victim in Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane. The line plays like an in-joke on Soderbergh’s part, as the film itself was shot using iPhones, not for budgetary reasons, but because the director/cinematographer, who has experimented with developing technology throughout his career, shot his thriller in relative secrecy on a tight schedule, the ease of the device allowing him to quickly transition between camera set-ups and save hours of production downtime.
From a script by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, Unsane is headlined by rising star Foy as Sawyer Valentini, a young office worker whose cold exterior masks anxiety issues caused by a prolonged stalking incident in her past. Attending what she thinks is a simple therapy session, Sawyer finds herself involuntarily checked in to a psychiatric institution after signing some seemingly innocuous forms without reading the small print.
The ensuing drama sees Sawyer trapped in a bureaucratic Kafkaesque nightmare, her initial 24 hour confinement extended to seven days after she defends herself against a male inmate and punches a staff member. The middle class Sawyer is forced to interact with/take advantage of people she would likely normally cross the street to avoid, including a black man, Nate (Jay Pharoah), who has somehow managed to sneak a cellphone into the institute, and an unstable young redneck girl (a genuinely intimidating Juno Temple).
Seemingly influenced by Sam Fuller’s 1963 psychodrama Shock Corridor, Soderbergh uses Unsane’s setup to explore the perils of a system that treats healthcare not as a public service but as a commercial enterprise. As Nate explains to Sawyer, it’s in the interest of the institute to keep her in their care until her insurance coverage runs out and she no longer provides a source of income for the facility.
This is a fascinating premise in itself, and midway through Unsane I was beginning to think it might be the director’s best work since his 1989 debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape. Foy is a magnetic presence, and even though the film paints Sawyer as complicated at best, unlikeable at worst, we’re always fully behind her quest to attain freedom. The use of natural light allowed by the iPhone gives the film a suitably clinical and sickly aesthetic, and the format’s distinctive aspect ratio is narrow enough to evoke claustrophobic confinement, wide enough to tease a world beyond the frame.
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Things begin to go awry when the film morphs from a politically motivated exposé of corruption to a run of the mill but poorly plotted psychological thriller as Sawyer’s former stalker (Joshua Leonard, best known as one of the doomed protagonists of The Blair Witch Project, a movie whose innovative use of technology no doubt left an impression on Soderbergh) turns up as a member of staff at the facility.
It all gets a little silly from this point, with the film raising the awkward question of how Sawyer’s stalker could have possibly known she would end up an inmate at that particular institute. Further plot holes emerge on what had been a smooth thoroughfare of a storyline as the movie struggles to mine tension from a subplot that serves merely as a distraction from a broader societal question. Had Soderbergh remained focussed on his film’s initial theme, Unsane might have created a wider Get Out style conversation around the ethics of commercializing the care industry. As it is, most viewers will leave Soderbergh’s film asking questions about minor unexplained plot points.
Unsane - 3 stars out of 5
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving
UCPAC Presents Three Classic 80s Films on 35mm Film (RAHWAY, NJ) -- A series of three classic films is being presented on 35mm film at Union County Performing Arts Center’s Main Stage theater. All viewings cost a $5 admission ticket that includes a 30 minute pre-show on the theater’s historic "Biggest Little Wurlitzer" organ and free popcorn along with the film screening. The films include The Breakfast Club (January 25), Pretty Woman (February 15), and The Karate Kid (March 8).Hopewell Theater Hosts Special Valentine's Screening of "Casablanca" With Supper (HOPEWELL, NJ) -- Hopewell Theater will host a special “date night” celebration of Valentine’s Day with a screening of the classic romance film Casablanca paired with an optional Moroccan supper on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14. An undisputed masterpiece and perhaps Hollywood's quintessential statement on love and romance, Casablanca has only improved with age, boasting career-defining performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. A Look At New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program In Cinema Studies, presents the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 which marks the festival's 37th Anniversary. The Festival will take place between January 25 and March 1, 2019. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, experimental and short subjects, classic revivals, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 will feature over 35 film screenings. NJPAC Presents Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert With The NJSO (NEWARK, NJ) -- The Harry Potter Film Concert Series returns to New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Live in Concert, on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. See the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra perform the magical score live while the entire film plays in high-definition on a 40-foot screen.
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