Credit: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street


Just because you can now shoot a film on an iPhone doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Take Steven Soderbergh’s Kafkaesque new thriller, Unsane. Soderbergh has always been a filmmaker willing to try new narrative techniques and experiment with next-wave technology. But Unsane is a lousy-looking film.

There’s no getting around it. The lighting is cruddy, the digital stock has a mealy grain, and he leans so hard on fish-eye lens close-ups you might think he’s been gorging on the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” video in what free time he has. To be fair, this is all meant to reflect the main character’s disorientation and anxiety. Still, it’s not very subtle, and it’s so overdone that it borders on self-parody. Making matters worse, the story is shockingly thin and predictable.

Claire Foy, so great in the first two seasons of The Crown, summons a serviceable American accent to play Sawyer Valentini — a finance-sector cubicle drone who recently moved to Pennsylvania from the Boston area to get away from a man who was stalking her. Early on, it’s established that Sawyer is a woman on the verge after a one-night stand via Tinder takes an unexpected detour.

But Sawyer later has enough self-awareness of her fragile state to confide her problems, including ideations of suicide, to a shrink. Her honesty backfires, however, when she unwittingly signs what she assumes is a boilerplate intake form which actually gives the hospital the right to commit her to the psych ward against her will. She protests that she doesn’t belong there, first with reason then violence, but it’s no use. For the next week, she’s locked in a room full of zombified schizophrenics, twitchy drug addicts, and scary psychopaths who make closing her eyes to sleep an impossibility. She’s trapped in a waking nightmare and fed daily cocktails of drugs by Nurse Ratched types. The only inmate who seems remotely sane is an opioid addict (played by ex-SNL castmember Jay Pharoah), who confides that she’s just a pawn in a conspiracy hatched by the corrupt hospital brass and crooked health insurance companies.

At this point, Unsane begins to feel like a promising, paranoid cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Shock Corridor. Soderbergh (and the film’s marketing sharpies) wants us to question whether Sawyer is a staggeringly unlucky victim or a delusionally unreliable narrator, like Edward Norton in Fight Club. Then she recognizes her stalker (The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard, all mild-mannered John Hinckley menace) working as one of the hospital’s orderlies. Or does she? Maybe he’s just a figment of her delusional imagination.

Soderbergh and his writers, Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, could have done a ton more with this is-she-or-isn’t-she? premise. But rather than toy with the audience, they cave and choose to go in a more straight-forward — and head-scratchingly dull — direction. At every turn, the movie feels like it’s following a straight road when some unexpected twists and detours would have been welcome (the novelty of seeing Queen Elizabeth flip out in a padded cell aside). And that’s pretty much this shoulder shrug of a thriller in a nutshell: You keep expecting it to zag, but it just keeps disappointingly zigging along. C-

  • Movie
  • 97 minutes