Unsane is a psychological horror film that was shot, edited and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Interestingly, this movie was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus. It follows Sawyer Valentini, a troubled woman who recently moved away from her home in an attempt to escape her long-term stalker. She inadvertently commits herself to a mental health institution after her councillor becomes concerned that Sawyer is suicidal.
Sawyer is confined to the facility for 24 hours but she doesn’t even want to be there for that long. She attempts to contact the police but they are unwilling to help her when they see she signed a release form. Naturally, she is angry about this. Afterwards, she gets into a physical altercation with another patient. Unfortunately, this extends her stay to 7 days.
Another patient called Nate gives Sawyer an introduction to the place. Highland Creek is running a scheme to milk health insurance claims for profit. They admit people against their will, and when insurance claims run out, the patient is “cured”. Knowing there is very little that she can do, Sawyer decides to keep her head down.
One day, Sawyer sees David Strine, her stalker. David has manufactured a completely different identity and works at the facility. Sawyer has an outburst and is restrained. Her understandable anger results in the repeated use of restraints and sedation.
Sometime after, Sawyer finds out that Nate has a secret mobile phone. He allows her to use it to call her mother Angela for help. Angela tries everything that she can think of but to no avail. David intentionally drugs Sawyer, causing her to become violent and disoriented. That evening, he makes his way into Angela’s hotel room, she has never seen him. Elsewhere, Sawyer confides in Nate about the origins of David’s obsession of her.
David sees Sawyer and Nate together and feels threatened. He knocks Nate unconscious and takes him to the basement. He tortures Nate with before killing him with an overdose of drugs. When they find Nate’s body, the staff dismiss it as being caused by Nate’s drug addiction. Sawyer finds a phone under her pillow, with images of Nate badly beaten. She tries to alert the staff, but they put her in solitary confinement.
David visits Sawyer and explains his desire to have her live with him in a secluded cabin far away from society. David says Highland Creek administration believes Sawyer is gone. He has changed information to make it appear that her insurance ran out. Will she escape David once and for all?
Unsane tells a harrowing tale about the psychological damage that being stalked can have on a person. It shows the lengths that someone is willing to go to achieve what they think is right, with little thought for those that are hurt along the way. At times, it is hard to believe how calculated David is. Still, his plan feels very flawed. He stole someone’s identity to get a job at the mental health facility. Did he somehow know that Sawyer would end up there? Also, she is initially admitted for only 24 hours. Her time is repeatedly extended but this is mostly due to her own stupidity. I understand and sympathize with her but all she has to do is keep her head down. However, she fails to do so on many occasions.
As I mentioned above, Unsane was recorded on an iPhone 7 Plus. I’d like to say that you can’t really tell but that just isn’t true. The whole movie has an aura of cheapness to it. The cinematography is strange, almost found footage-like in some scenes and then not in others. This is clearly an attempt at creativity so I applaud the experimentation but it comes across amateurish in something that is anything but. This is in no way helped by the awful stock-music soundtrack.
Also, while the performances are good I cannot say that I found Sawyer to be a particularly likeable character. Naturally, you root for her to succeed but that’s about it. Still, her dialogue is well written and therefore enjoyable. David, played by Joshua Leonard is very creepy. He has such a calm demeanor but is capable of great anger and terrible violence. Initially, Unsane is lacking in traditional horror elements but it makes up for it in the end. David and his dangerous obsession for Sawyer leads to some dark places.
At the very least, the story in Unsane is delivered well. It unfolds at a steady pace which keeps things interesting. Initially, it feels ridiculous that the institute could hold her against her will so easily. However, it is all portrayed in such a believable way that it is easy to buy into.