Monday 2 April 2018

Unsane (USA 2018: Dir Steven Soderbergh)

Claire Foy is Sawyer Valentini (yep, you read that right), victim of a stalker who seeks help for her particular PTSD by receiving counselling at the Highland Creek Behavioural Center. At least that's what she thinks is happening, but after signing some consent forms without reading them, Valentini finds herself stripped of most of her clothes, begowned and incarcerated within the facility, ostensibly for her own safety. What follows is her attempt to understand why she's there, secure her own release in collaboration with her mother (Amy Irving) and deal with George, a member of staff within the Center who looks suspiciously like the person responsible for her original trauma.

Steven Soderbergh's first film in four years has been described as 'brave' mainly because top drawer directors generally don't make films like Unsane. It's a movie in thrall to its influences, everything from Italian giallo (the film's title was also one of the alternative names given to Dario Argento's 1982 movie Tenebrae), to Samuel Fuller's 1963 film Shock Corridor, and the conspiracy flicks of the 1970s; the last shot freeze fame and brief end titles show that he knows exactly what he's doing stylistically. It's not a horror film per se but its elements are sufficiently fantastic to make it more than a straightforward thriller. Soderbergh gets around any suggestions of plot implausibilities - and there are a lot - by directing at breakneck pace and never placing the camera far from Claire Foy's petrified but increasingly resolute face. It's a good performance from this actor, her job being to create a sympathetic character out of a few backstory brushstrokes and have the audience on her side from the first minute of the movie to the last.

The director's sideswipes at the US pharmacy industry are present and correct - it's revealed that Valentini's incarceration is part of a numbers game whereby patient admissions secure lucrative medical funding - and his portrayal of dispassionate authority figures, particularly facility owner Miss Brighterhouse (Aimee Mullins, coming on like Nurse Ratched with a promotion), leaves us in no doubt who the real bad guys are.

Soderbergh's film, apparently shot in secret largely on iphones (if we are to believe the publicity), may not be breaking any new ground cinematically but it's a genre first for the director, unless you count his 2011 pandemic movie Contagion. It's passable entertainment but no more, but while you're watching the director does a good job of convincing you that it's more than the sum of its parts.

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