Movie Review: “Unsane”
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is trying to lead a normal life, but having a stalker makes it difficult to do so. She moves to a new city, far away from her friends and family, she gets a new job, and has lunch at a different time everyday. She uprooted her whole life to get away from her stalker and she made her days as irregular as possible (in the event that her stalker found her). Even after doing all this, Sawyer is paranoid that her stalker is out there watching her. She sees him in places that she should not, so she decides that she needs to talk to a psychiatrist.
Sawyer is depressed and when the psychiatrist asks if she has ever contemplated suicide, Sawyer says the thought has entered her mind. Concerned, the psychiatrist tricks Sawyer into signing herself into a mental institution. She is being held against her will but the police cannot help, since she signed the documents herself. Her only way out is to spend a week in the facility without incident. That’s when she begins seeing her stalker, David (Joshua Leonard), as a new employee at the facility.
The Pros & Cons
The Setup (-5pts)
The Mystery (+2pts)
The Reveal (-6pts)
Claire Foy (+4pts)
Pro: David (+8pts)
David was so incredibly creepy in Unsane. He became obsessed with Sawyer after the death of his father, but Sawyer wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. He would text her constantly, send flowers to her work, and leave dresses on her bed while she was home alone and in the shower. You (as an audience) can totally understand Sawyer going crazy but when we actually see the character, he is even creepier than anticipated.
This character is creepy and Joshua Leonard did a great job of showing that to us. The things he says and does are creepy, sure, but it’s the line delivery and the way he looks at Sawyer that brings it to the extreme. Everything came together for this character. The writing and direction made his creepy lines and actions but Joshua Leonard brought the rest. This was not a good movie but David was memorable and was, arguably, the best part of the movie.
Con: The Setup (-5pts)
Going into the movie, the premise made sense. A victim of stalking talks to a psychiatrist and says something that she thought was harmless but that the psychiatrist took very seriously, so they trick her into signing herself into an institution. Essentially, that’s the setup of the movie, but the execution of that setup was done very poorly. For starters, the setup was drawn out much longer than it should have been but it was the hospital‘s overall sketchiness that did not work for me. This movie was all about stalking and the trauma it can cause it’s victims. David was awkward and creepy enough, but the filmmakers tried to play off the hospital and it’s employees as equally sketchy. It really just did not work, because it was too much and not believable.
Based on the comments that Sawyer made to the psychistrist, I did not believe that the psychiatrist would go to the extreme of tricking her into signing herself into the institution. That is a pretty extreme measure to take, especially when it does not take a psychiatric degree to tell that Sawyer’s comments were just harmless venting. Then, there was the staff of the hospital who would not answer any of Sawyers questions as they just casually go through the protocol of admitting her into the institution in the most awkward way possible. A story like this only works when the setup is believable and this one was not. Then, with the presence of David, there simply was not room for additional sketchy or creepy characters, so the weird behavior of the hospital staff felt unnecessary.
Pro: The Mystery (+2pts)
Once Sawyer gets admitted into the mental institution, she starts to see David working there. The movie really plays into the uncertainty of whether or not David is actually there. Has he somehow found her or is Sawyer actually in a damaged psychological state? This was one of the more interesting parts of the movie because, as an audience member, I could have seen it going either way. Naturally, you want to assume the the protagonist is sane. This movie does a pretty decent job of making the audience doubt Sawyer‘s sanity but it unfortunately does not do that for very long.
Con: The Reveal (-6pts)
I was pretty disappointed by the reveal of whether or not David was actually there. I really enjoyed the mystery element, and would have been happy with either outcome but the filmmakers gave away the answer far too soon. The movie spends plenty of time setting everything up, then we get about twenty minutes of wondering whether or not David was there, then they just give it away. David was very creepy in this movie, and the mystery was fun to go along with, but thet gave us the answer too soon.
The whole thing could have been so much more impactful if we got all of David’s awkwardness and did not get the reveal till the end. This could have given the film a pretty big finish, but that’s unfortunately not the way they went. Again, I would have been happy with either possibility but revealing the mystery too soon ruined a bit of the fun and made for somewhat of an anti-climactic finish.
Pro: Claire Foy (+4pts)
At times, Claire Foy’s performance felt a little forced and too over-the-top when it did not need to. However, for the most part, Claire Foy did a great job in this movie. The audience’s uncertainty of Sawyer‘s sanity hinges on the ability of the actress playing the character, and really could have gone either way with it. The intensity in her eyes during certain scenes and her freak out moments led me to believe she was insane, but at the same time. she was very relatable which made me think she was not insane at all (or maybe...I...am insane...).
She had good chemistry with her supporting characters, and she brought real rage and disgust to her scenes with David (Joshua Leonard). This was not an incredible performance but Claire Foy certainly played her part. This movie needed her to sell David’s creepiness when no other characters would, while playing into the mystery of her own sanity by balancing both sides. She certainly did her part for this movie and she did it well.
Con: iPhone (-5pts)
When I heard that this entire movie was shot on an iPhone (yes, you read that correctly), I was definitely intrigued. I was intrigued by the bold decision when the filmmakers could have easily shot it using film or a digital camera fully equipped for a cinematic video. Unfortunately, it was a visually noticeable “style” and there was no reason for it. The video quality was decent for a home video but not for a cinematic experience. If audiences go into this movie not knowing about the whole iPhone thing, they won’t be able to guess that it was shot on an iPhone but they will notice that it was shot in a weird way.
They will notice that something is different but they will not know what it is. It basically looked like a found footage film that had no plot justification for it being found footage. It was like Paranormal Activity, if no one ever looked at, or interacted with, the character holding the camera. It was just weird and unnecessary. I just had the impression that it was done so that the director could say that he is so great that he can shoot a movie using his phone. It was an interesting decision but proved to be pointless and resulted in a movie of lower visual quality than we are used to seeing these days. I really hope this does not become a new trend of directors trying to prove themselves or boost their egos and resorting to this unnecessary “style”.
Grade: C- (73pts)
Unsane was a movie that had a lot going for it. It was along the same vein of movies like Shutter Island, A Cure for Wellness, and Stonehearst Asylum. By that, I mean that the plot has the main character being held against their will in an insane asylum and we (the audience) must determine if they are actually crazy or not. This movie had a twist, however. In Unsane, the main character’s stalker ends up getting a job (or so we think) in the institution. So not only does our main character, Sawyer, have no way out, but she also sounds more crazy every time she claims that the man is her stalker. The premise of the movie was interesting and the mystery was fun to play along with, but the filmmakers gave away the answer way too soon. By doing this, they figuratively took the air out of the film’s tires, which made for a lackluster ending.
This movie was also shot solely on an iPhone which intrigued me beforehand but ended up being nothing more than a cheap gimmick. There was absolutely no reason or benefit to doing this. The only explanation is that the director wanted to be “artsy” and do something unorthodox just for the sake of being different and getting bragging rights for having done it. The picture quality was not great and the reveal came too soon but Joshua Leonard as David was a creepy enigma that was enough to make this movie watchable. Not good or even average, but watchable.