Unsane (2018)

*. Unsane is a movie with a gimmick, which is something different than a gimmick movie. The difference being that a gimmick movie is one where the gimmick defines the film in some way. Most “found footage” horror movies could be labeled this way, at least before found footage became its own genre.
*. The gimmick in Unsane, however, is hidden. That’s the point. It was shot entirely on an iPhone, but not an iPhone being used by a character in the movie, as in a shaky-cam feature. Instead, the director Steven Soderbergh wanted to show that a whole film could be made using such a common device and nobody would be able to notice.
*. Well, I think he succeeded. I don’t think anyone who didn’t know this was “the iPhone movie” would notice, even with the distortions of a wide-angle lens. Or that the whole thing was shot in a Cormanesque ten days. Give credit to Soderbergh. He really is a slick director, and he can make anything look professional grade. That’s not entirely a compliment, but just an observation.
*. Unfortunately, aside from this (invisible) achievement, there isn’t much else to recommend Unsane. The cast, headed by Claire Foy, is capable (I won’t say more), but the story is both very simple and very stupid. I was anticipating something far more clever given the premise and the tiny budget, the latter making this an indie feature in all but name.
*. The story has a young woman named Sawyer (Foy) checking into a psychiatric hospital. It’s not clear what is wrong with Sawyer, or through what subterfuge she ends up stuck in the hospital against her will. We just have to go along with it. Then it turns out that a man who had been stalking her is an orderly at the hospital and still has designs on her.
*. Given the classically unreliable protagonist and the genre we’re in (psychological thriller) you’d expect a lot of twists. There are none. For the first half of the movie it’s at least up in the air as to whether Sawyer is just imagining her persecutor, but once that got settled I was waiting for something less predictable, out of left field. I spent the rest of the movie waiting.
*. What we get instead is the old story of the obsessive lover kidnapping the object of his desire, followed by her outwitting him and escaping. There’s nothing new to this at all, to the point where I can’t imagine what anyone saw in the project aside from the possibility of doing it on the cheap, which is something they might have done just as easily with a much better script.
*. And that’s it. I guess there’s some sort of message here about the American health system and the way insurance companies milk patients, but that’s by the way. The bottom line is that nothing interesting happens and, for all Soderbergh’s accomplishment in making such a film look so polished and professional, it still ends up seeming like a waste of time except to prove his point that it could be done.

6 thoughts on “Unsane (2018)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I really thought it should have been better. It’s very well done, especially given the limitations Soderbergh set himself, but the story wasn’t new or interesting at all.

  1. Tom Moody

    I can’t see the title “Unsane” without thinking of the VHS box for the ’80s US pan-and-scan version of Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.
    Thinking back over 30 years of this industrious player’s (Soderbergh’s) output, here’s a list of ones I’ve seen (asterisk means in the theatre). Observations/qualifications: (i) I don’t usually see this many films by one director; (ii) many are good; (iii) I only hated one; (iv) none are great (King of the Hill and The Informant! are probably my two favorite). I didn’t actually watch the 2018 Unsane — that’s a joke.

    1989 Sex, Lies, and Videotape (good but overrated)
    1993 King of the Hill (good) *
    1995 The Underneath (OK but unpopular) *
    1998 Out of Sight (OK) *
    1999 The Limey (good)
    2000 Erin Brockovich (OK)
    2000 Traffic (hated it) *
    2001 Ocean’s Eleven (fluff) *
    2002 Solaris (skipped in protest)
    2004 Ocean’s Twelve (fluff)
    2009 The Girlfriend Experience (OK)
    2009 The Informant! (good)
    2011 Haywire (OK)
    2018 Unsane (Dario Argento)

    Soderbergh isn’t a complete hack like Peter Hyams or Joel Schumacher, but you have to be suspicious of anyone (except maybe Hitchcock) who keeps working to this extent within the Hollywood sausage factory (frequent little indies notwithstanding).

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Argento is holy ground, Tom! Well, most of his work is. There are some duds. I liked Tenebrae.

      Soderbergh. The word I keep applying to him is slick. Maybe it was the effect of all those Ocean’s movies. I get the sense that he wants to do more artistic projects, but that his inclinations are all toward generic Hollywood stuff. So he liked those heist pictures so much he went on to do Logan Lucky. And even this movie, which had so much of a low-budget, indie spirit about it turns into a standard thriller.

      You were right to skip his Solaris. Didn’t work at all. Seemed to be more inspired by Christopher Nolan than Tarkovsky (or Lem).

  2. Tom Moody

    “Slick” is good, it covers both the professionalism and the shallowness. I haven’t seen Out of Sight in a while but there is a scene where George Clooney is tearing off his necktie (out of frustration or relief, or some combination). It’s shot from several angles and quickly cut so it takes about the same time it would take to remove a tie and throw it to the ground. The flashiness calls attention to itself but also underscores the “importance” of the moment, emotionally and plotwise. I admire but also kind of hate that kind of facility, and for the life of me I can’t remember today why he was wearing a tie or why he tore it off. And I saw the movie twice, once in the theatre and once streaming. I remember the style, not the substance.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I haven’t seen Out of Sight but now I’ll be thinking of that scene! I think Soderbergh’s affinity for Mr. Smooth (Clooney) sort of goes with his slickness as well.


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