Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a no-nonsense businesswoman who is climbing the corporate ladder by being very effective at her job, at times ruthlessly so. However, when she is called into her boss's office and told how well she is doing, then that he would like to go away on a conference weekend with her and her alone, she makes her excuses and begins to suffer a crisis of confidence since the unwanted encounter has dredged up memories of when she was stalked by a disturbed man, David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She thought she had put that behind her yet feels the need to check in for an appointment with a counsellor just to set her head straight. This will be a big mistake...
Unsane was apparently as much a technical exercise as it was a chance to dabble in the horror field for director Steven Soderbergh, here working from a screenplay by James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein. He essentially shot it on his phone, which presumably would be a very good advertisement for the manufacturer involved for though you could detect the picture was not quite up to the standard set by cameras specifically designed for the purpose, it was certainly clear and the sound was easy enough to make out the dialogue from. When it came to the actual plot, however, many were keen to point out it left much to be desired, not standing up to scrutiny.
When you accepted this was more or less an update of those nineteen-sixties psycho-horrors complete with pseudo-psychological explanations for either how the heroine was landed in a mental treatment facility, or how the bad guy was managing to have such a hold over her, then you would get along with the director's games playing a lot better. Soderbergh was in trickster mode once again, possibly his favourite style, and the suspicion he was having a laugh at both his characters and his audience was rarely far away, so if you could take that approach and accept the filmmaker's joke was well and truly on you for the duration, it was an experience that could legitimately amuse.
When mental health professionals clapped eyes on this, hoping for a solid representation of their work, they were understandably let down when everything here was not interested in being faithful to the hospital treatment, and far more keen to set up situations where its heroine could be in great peril. In that manner there was a hefty dose of Franz Kafka to the narrative, not completely out of the blue since Soderbergh's second feature had been a fantastical biopic of the renowned writer, and his method of tackling the paranoia Sawyer was suffering was more like a nightmare scenario than anyone potentially trapped in the mental illness cycle would likely experience. The main worry is that it would put off the genuinely ill from seeking help, if this was the sort of care they could expect to receive.
But it was more apparent as the plot progressed that Unsane was absurd, and happy to embrace that preposterousness, never mind the dedication the cast applied themselves with. Foy was convincingly brittle as the reluctant patient, so that in the early stages you would be unsure if she was committed for the good of Sawyer's health, or whether there was a conspiracy against her, and support from Jay Pharaoh (whose character has smuggled a lifeline of a phone) and Juno Temple (whose character is incarcerated for very good reasons, that much is plain) ensured this was at least entertaining on a basic horror movie level. Of course, there were going to be nitpickers, and there were some monster-sized nits to pick, but accept you were in movieland and you would have a pretty good time, the chief misgivings being that mental health stigma remained a problem, and material like this was not helping. Music by Thomas Newman (under a pseudonym).
Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.
Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.