A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear--but is it real or a product of her delusion?
If you’re going into something like this year’s Unsane (from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh) and know little to nothing about The Crown – you’ll be seeing a totally fresh face and a powerful performance from a relative “unknown”.
On the other hand, if you have seen any of The Crown (I wasn’t a fan and cut out after 2-3 episodes of season one) – then you’ll have an extra bit of appreciation for her work in Unsane – as it’s 180 degree turnaround from the prim and proper, obviously quite British performance she gives as Queen Elizabeth.
Why all of this? Well, Unsane is enjoyable (not great – we’ll get to that shortly), but there’s no denying that the very best piece of this film’s puzzle – is the acting work of Foy. Simple.
Sawyer Valentini (Foy) has recently moved to a new city, to escape something in her past. She’s got a new job and is attempting to make new friends and get into the dating scene. But she’s clearly damaged. So in order to try and fix herself and face her demons, she randomly goes to a mental care facility – to check it out and to get advice. Through a series of events, she is involuntarily committed to the facility – where that past she’s been running from – comes face to face with her. But is she really seeing this? Or is she actually right at home in this mental institution?
The big “selling point” of Unsane, was the fact that the filmmakers chose to film the entire thing with an iPhone. I did a quick search – to find out the reason for this choice. I guess it was a matter of ease in set-ups and quick changes. I see that using the iPhone also added some very gritty, indie quality – adding some immediacy to the events on-screen. But I personally wasn’t a fan. I don’t think it made any great artistic statement which will stand the test of time. The fact that it was a big deal that Soderbergh shot his film this way – feels gimmicky to me. However, there are some interesting visual moments (one of Sawyer’s freak-outs where there are multiple images overlapping one another – was nifty).
The film is quite intriguing at the outset. It’s fascinating to see how easily someone could be “abducted” and thrown into the mental health system. Whether or not that’s how it might actually go down in the real world, I bought it. It’s frightening and the explanation for how it happened – doesn’t feel too far out of the realm of something which could actually occur. Again – frightening.
But once the third act comes around – Foy continues to shine, but the film loses its footing. From the get-go, as you’re finding out what Sawyer’s issues are (she’s been dealing with a stalker for two years) – it’ll become immediately apparent that there’s not much new going on here. We’ve seen dozens of “crazy stalker” films over the years, and Unsane brings nothing original to this kind of film. It’s got it all down, but there are no surprises here.
A big reason for the failure of these stalker stereotypes? The secondary lead performance from Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project). It felt like his work as David simply checked off every single box you’d expect to see in any performance as an obsessed weirdo. He wasn’t particularly creepy, and he never made me believe any of his choices (even when things get a little emotional for the character late in the film). Leonard felt wooden. And it probably didn’t help that there was nothing special about David’s obsession. So Leonard quite possibly could have been simply wandering about the brain of this guy – with not a lot of fascinating or bizarre traits to latch on to. Not a good performance from this actor – and if there’s no menace (or better yet, no sympathy) for this sick person – that’s an insurmountable offense for a film like this.
Foy, on the other hand – hits every single moment provided to her by the script. Again – to mention Sawyer’s initial commitment – watch Foy’s confusion, disbelief and thoughts of “maybe this is okay” as she’s taken further into the facility. Sawyer’s asked to have her bag checked and to strip down and get into a hospital gown. The brilliance in Foy’s work here – is that even though we as an audience are screaming (inwardly and outwardly), “why would you do that!?”, Foy sells Sawyer’s actions in this scene. We don’t want her follow these orders, but when she does – we get it. If an actor has you that engaged in their character’s choices, regardless of if they make complete sense – then that actor has done their job, 110%! Of course, she has any number of other amazing moments throughout the film (the extended monologue in a padded cell) – but I could write four complete reviews about her work here.
Again – the reason to see this film – Foy’s performance.
I was thrilled beyond words to see that Amy Irving (Carrie, The Fury) has a supporting role as Sawyer’s mother. And Irving didn’t disappoint in her relatively few moments of screen-time. So glad to see her still working. I’ll just say it: Irving’s an acting legend and I want more of her in my movies!
Other than the iPhone gimmick, what is particularly new about this? Nothing. My reasons for taking this in – the presence of the great Amy Irving and Claire Foy’s terrific and nuanced performance.
Everything else – including the stalker story we’ve seen done before (and better) – isn’t worth much of your time. As is, however – I’ll offer the film a solid 3-star rating. Just a smidge above “average”. Take that as you will, dear readers.
Oh, and you gotta love the obvious Misery homage in the film’s final moments. A symptom of the rest of the film’s derivative nature.
The film is available on DVD/Bluray and on various VOD outlets.