In 2013, Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking. But since then, he’s gone on to direct two television series and two movies -- the latest of which is the unsettling and thought-provoking psychological thriller Unsane.
Unsane stars Claire Foy – an actress best known for playing Queen Elizabeth on the Netflix original series The Crown -- as Sawyer Valentini. After moving to a new city to escape from her longtime stalker, Sawyer still finds herself dealing with the intense fear and depression that comes from being a victim of constant harassment. But when she visits a therapist to talk about the issues she is struggling with, Sawyer unknowingly gives her permission to be committed to a mental ward. There, she must grapple with her doubts about whether the threats she believes she is facing are a delusion of her own making or are very real and very dangerous.
The setup of Unsane sounds like a classic psychological-thriller plot, poised to deliver one twist after another and keep the audience guessing until the very end. In many ways, the movie delivers on these twists and turns. However, plot twists and mystery are not really the primary goals of Unsane. Instead, what Soderbergh delivers is a provocative look at the life of a stalking victim, as well as an exploration of the current state of America’s mental-health system. The result is a movie that is as suspenseful and unsettling as any whodunit thriller, while at the same time it conveys a powerful message.
The message of Unsane is as timely as it is effective. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the terrors that victims of sexual harassment of all forms -- stalking included -- must face have finally been given a national spotlight. At the same time, the country is struggling with a mental-health crisis as we try to figure out how to help those who need care the most. Unsane is an unsettling glimpse into how bad things can get when we ignore or mishandle these issues.
From a filmmaking perspective, it’s interesting to note that Unsane was shot almost entirely on an iPhone with a 1.2-million-dollar budget. At times, the movie does come across as a low-budget work. However, this minor distraction is quickly forgotten once you are engrossed in the plot.
Unsane may offer a few thrills and chills, but it is certainly not a typical horror film designed to startle you at every turn with jump-scares or gross you out with blood and gore. Instead, it chooses to focus on a story that is real and disturbing, shining a spotlight on the true horrors of society and the human condition. In the end, these are the things that will leave you unsettled long after the end credits roll.
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