When you get a pebble in your shoe, it can be anything from a minor annoyance to a severe distraction which keeps you from being able to concentrate on anything else. Unsane put a fist-sized rock in my shoe, and it took away from what might have been a much better movie. Keep in mind that I have sat through two different 50 Shades movies when I say that I nearly walked out of this one.
Unsane finds Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) having moved to a new city, and a new life, trying to escape after being stalked by David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She’s got a new job, and we open with a phone conversation which establishes her as intelligent, and cut-throat, but terse and cold. She can use charm, when it suits her, though. Sawyer begins to think that she sees her stalker out of the corner of her eye, and becomes increasingly paranoid, so she goes to see a professional for help. As you should when you are having a mental issue. And here is where things unravel, both in the story and for me as a viewer.
In the film, Sawyer is tricked into signing in, as a voluntary patient, for a 48-hour evaluation. She is unhappy about this, justifiably, but reacts poorly and winds up being held for a 7-day evaluation. While she is in the “hospital” – I’ll get into that more in a moment. – she thinks that her stalker has secured a job there, and is locked in with her. She finds some comfort in another patient, Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), who helps her to try to navigate her stay, as well as to reassure her that she’s not crazy. But then there’s the question of if her stalker is really there or not.
The rock that got this film put into my shoe started with Sawyer’s conversation with her counselor. I get that there is a message of the facility being unethical, and trying to bilk insurance companies for whatever they can squeeze out of their patients, but this was so sloppily done that I almost couldn’t contain the “Oh, bullshit!” exclamation that tried to escape my lips. From there, the factually lacking, and negatively stereotyped depictions of a mental hospital just made me angrier. A few of the major problems I had were as follows: co-ed units, where all the beds are in one room, with no supervision; patients restrained in a common area, without supervision; medications injected into the jugular vein; patients in locked seclusion without supervision. Even giving room for this to be a facility that is being badly run, these are all things that licensing agencies would not have allowed to happen, things that would lead to deaths and/or injuries, with subsequent lawsuits, and major issues of liability.
After taking some time to get past the glaring problems, I was still mad, but now because I felt that this movie could still have been made better with some technical advising, and about another 10 minutes worth of filming. I recognize that the things that most bother me do so because of my profession. The same way I imagine pilots get when watching movies about planes, or that law enforcement or military feel when watching movies that obliterate any sense of reality in their areas of expertise. That said, I feel like the attention to realism in the areas of mental health would have strengthened the suspense and drama of the film.
All that bad out of the way, I really enjoyed the performances in this film. Not only the main actors but even the interplay between the receptionist and the police officers coming to investigate the 911 call from Sawyer to try to get released. I will not be able to drink coffee without feeling flirtatious. The cinematography added a great layer to the movie, giving it some surreal feelings and point of view shots that really added to the narrative. I later found out that the whole movie was filmed on an iPhone 7 Plus, which I thought was fascinating. There was a lot of nuance in the performances and the cinematography, but I really want the movie that I saw in the trailer.
My sincere hope is that people watching it don’t think that this is the reality of how mental health facilities operate. There is enough stigma around mental health, and enough bad stereotypes surrounding people with mental health problems. If you have no experience with mental health care, you might well enjoy this film. I know other reviewers I chatted with did. I own my bias on this one.
Synopsis: 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?
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer
Stars: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Runtime: 1 Hour, 37 Minutes