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Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Rated: R for Disturbing Behavior, Violence, Language, and Sex References
Running Time: 1 h 38 m
TMM Score: 2.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Writing, Acting
WEAKNESSES: Distractingly Bad Cinematography, Pacing
A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, believing her stalker has purposefully brought her there. Is it all in her head, or is it really happening?
I like Soderbergh; he’s always trying something new, and even if it doesn’t work the way he wants it to, he usually tells at least a halfway decent story. This film, sadly, I would say is one of his bumbles, primarily because of the technique he used to shoot Unsane. The entirety of this film was shot on an iPhone, which I’m guessing was in direct response to Sean Baker’s 2015 film Tangerine. That film too was shot on an iPhone, and it received incredible amount of praise for its ingenuity and creativity. I have yet to see that film, but after seeing this I’d like to, primarily because if it inspired Soderbergh to try shooting his next film on an iPhone, the inspiration must’ve looked pretty darn good. This film, however, did not look good. The cinematography was incredibly uneven; sometimes the shots looked okay, other times the shots were distractingly bad. I understand the appeal of trying to be innovative and shooting on a different format, but the way this film was executed distracted from the truly good performances and writing.
Crazy is as Crazy Does
The best part of this movie is Claire Foy (forthcoming First Man). I’ve watched a few episodes of the Crown and she was fantastic in that as well. She is able to show a lot of range while still remaining grounded and elegant. Even in this film, when her character might or mightn’t be crazy, she’s able to pull it off with such authority that she rides the crazy/sane line perfectly. There were many times in this film when I second-guessed my predictions for the ending, and that was entirely due to Claire Foy’s performance. In particular, some of her freak-out scenes were truly disturbing, the way she plead with the nurses and attendants to let her go was believable, and the constant anxiety she wore on her face helped to bring an underlying layer of tension to the film whenever she was on screen.
There was a lot of good writing in this film too. Whenever there was meant to be tension I felt tension, at least for the first half. Again, I think a lot of the tension had to do with the performances, but still the eeriness of the writing added another layer of anxiety to the film. Towards the end, however, the film really started to drag, to the point where my brother and my roommate (with whom I watch this), both commented that this was the longest hour and a half movie they’d ever seen. The climax in particular feels like it’s dragged out over fifteen minutes. I was ready for the movie to be done far before it actually ended.
The worst part of this film, easily, was the cinematography. I can see how a movie shot on an iPhone might work in certain circumstances, but for this film it felt needless and it distracted heavily from the story. I actually found myself trying to picture what this movie might’ve looked like had they shot it like a real movie, because the way that it was shot was almost enough to give me a headache. For the untrained eye, or those who aren’t used to looking for things that make shots unique, the film might look fine. But for my brother, my roommate, and myself we all found it irritating. For one thing, there were plenty of shots where characters were given waaay too much headroom. That’s fine if you’re trying to convey a feeling of oppression, and there were scenes when I thought that technique was used properly, but for the most part it feel completely unnecessary and it made the frame feel awkward. I could see how Soderbergh intended this to make the viewer feel subconsciously uncomfortable, but it certainly didn’t work for me. Instead of sending me subconscious emotions, I consciously looked at every single frame of the film, feeling like each shot was worst that the last. Perhaps the epitome of bad comes with a long day-for-night shot, and holy cow, does that look terrible. The quality of those shots is comparable to some of the day for night stuff in Suburban Sasquatch; seriously. It’s that bad.
I honestly kind of feel bad for Claire Foy; she did remarkably well in this film, and it could’ve been a really good flick had they shot this like a real movie and shortened up the climax by five or so minutes. As it stands now, this movie has a few redeeming elements, but it’s bogged down by the technical elements. I’m no one to tell Mr. Soderbergh how to do his job; he’s an Academy Award winning director, and he’s done plenty of things I really liked; this movie was just not one that worked.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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