Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky) has taken on a new kind of experiment with Unsane. The thriller starring Claire Foy was filmed entirely with an iPhone 7 Plus, leading to a micro budget of $1.5 million. This frequently provides opportunities for more intimate shots, which adds to the claustrophobic feel of the hostile mental hospital. It also shows at times, especially in the film’s bland color palette.
This close and intimate style of film is fitting for this type of thriller, following a woman who is a victim of stalking and ends up in a mental hospital by way of deceptive so-called healthcare professionals. The hospital keeps her there in a glorified insurance scam, finding ways to keep her there as long as insurance will pay. Meanwhile, her paranoia continues to crank up, as she keeps seeing her stalker everywhere – even the hospital itself. To its credit, the film waits as long as possible to reveal this backstory, keeping tension and intrigue high. In fact, this is likely the film’s greatest strength – between the script and the blocking, Soderbergh does a solid job delivering a tense film. These elements though, while comprising a good basis for a genre thriller, fail to deliver real depth.
Once the stalker element is introduced, the film pivots quite a bit, becoming less about the hospital setup, except as a matter of mechanics to get her stuck with her stalker. As far as plot mechanics go that’s a pretty good setup, but it leaves hanging the theme about healthcare at the service of greed, and fails to connect these story elements. Because of this failure, the film feels fragmented, the result of diverging visions of the story, neither quite given the time it needs to develop.
But what of the elements that are there? The stalker plot adds little new to the mix, although a spectacular performance by Claire Foy does inspire a lot of empathy, as well as showing the limitations of the law when it comes to helping victims. As followers of a God who defends the defenseless, that should certainly be of interest to us. In a similar way, the cons of healthcare built on financial profit are worth examining, although I can’t help but wonder if political remedies it would be any more effective than the restraining order was for Sawyer.
But fragmented as the film is, these ideas are not likely to stick with viewers for any great length of time. Soderbergh’s film has its effective moments as a thriller with some experimental value, but ultimately fails to deliver anything of lasting value.