UNSANE (FILM REVIEW)

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An expert at the human condition, Steven Soderbergh launches a new psychological thriller Unsane – shot in secret in 2017 – and surprises with a gritty, experimental tale that challenges the mental faculties of both characters and audience alike.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is the company’s new data analyst. New to the city, she digs in her heels not only in her job (telling a customer if another analyst tells them differently, it’s because they are doing a bad job), but also into her colleagues, who call her names behind her back. Even her sexual predator of a boss can’t slice through her defences.

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But the nervy lady is clearly high-strung over something. After a disastrous Tinder date, Sawyer reveals the source of her anxiety to a local psychiatrist – a stalker.

Things escalate quickly when it turns out that she signed a form for voluntary commitment to the local institution, thinking them to be standard paperwork. And when you force a high-strung, left-brain workaholic into a ward, well, it’s like putting a feral cat in a cardboard box.

Her reactionary claws come out, and her violent streaks impugn her sentence to a week. Bad enough as it is, but when a fellow ward-mate Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), of seemingly sound mind, advises her to comply so that she may leave earlier, Sawyer complies. That is until a night orderly is the splitting image of her stalker, which proves too much for her to take.

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Convinced that it is the same David Strine (Joshua Leonard) working under a false identity, she gains no empathy or investigation from the hospital staff, now accustomed to her rants. What follows after is a swashbuckling battle of wit and reveals that is as disturbing as it is exciting.

Soderbergh’s grasp of believable portrayal comes not only from the realistic lines and as-is settings, but also from his excellent casting.

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Foy shoulders Unsane upon her thin shoulders, and hefts the performance through like a tense wire tied to a boulder. Her energy is always burdened yet not heavy, and her ticks and manners so imbued, it’s almost endearing. Which makes for a fun watch for the first hour, as she struggles to find someone to believe her, viewers included.

Another contribution to the brash, bold vibe is based on the fact that the whole film was shot on the iPhone 7. The unconventional boxed-up aspect ratio amplifies the trapped conditions, while warped lens attachment distort everyday reality, making it suspect.

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Even though there are sequences that harken to Soderbergh’s avant-garde roots, such as the added pill episode and unforgettable blue solitary confinement quarters, the film always stays relevant and practical, delivering a trail of breadcrumbs that lead us to the proverbial big bad wolf of an ending.

While there are some minor plot loopholes, Unsane remains evenly-keeled enough to stay afloat. Even though Soderbergh cheekily changed his name for his contribution in cinematography and editing, the director’s hand in film-making is remarkably sober.

Rating: 4*

Compelling thriller with experimental touches. Foy delivers a masterful performance and Soderbergh finesses a sinewy psycho-drama.

First published: http://www.movieXclusive.com

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