Film Review: UNSANE (USA 2018) ***1/2

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 alternates between making big budget Hollywood blockbusters like OCEAN’S ELEVEN, ERIN BROCKOVICH and small budget personal movies.  UNSANE falls into the latter and shows the director in playful mood.  His playful mood translates to genuine scares and twisted humour in UNSANE, the story of a businesswoman institutionalized against her free will.

UNSANE contains touches of Soderbergh’s past films like a female heroine discovering a conspiracy (ERIN BROCKOVICH) and even has a welcome appearance of a cameo from a famous actor from one of his blockbuster films, even if not for more than a minute.  The film is updated to a scene similar to what the heroine would face if placed in a Harvey Weinstein like situation.

The heroine of the piece is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a young, pretty and bright but troubled businesswoman.  She begins to find out that her past is catching up to her when she encounters a stalker. To ensure her safety, Sawyer signs up for a support group that helps people tackle stalking problems.  She also moves to a different city leaving her mother and friends behind, leading an excluded life that would likely bring her paranoia.  She gets help from a stalking support group.  Unfortunately, Sawyer finds out that she has involuntarily placed herself in a mental institution with strict rules that there should be no contact with the outside world.  The message here is to be careful what you sign.  Never sign what you have not read!  Now, Sawyer is alone and trapped against her will.

According to the film’s ad, Sawyer must fight her own demons within the twisted asylum as the visions of her stalker begin to take over.

There are are two main questions posed in the film’s premise:

what the reason is for her to be institutionalized against her own free will

whether she is imagining the stalker now or is it the real thing

To avoid any spoilers, the answers will not be revealed in this review, safe to say that they are revealed to the audience quite early in the film.  Nevertheless, director Soderbergh devises other means to scare his audience.  And quite effectively too.  One is the placement of another scary, mental patient in the bed next to Sawyer.  Olivia (JunoTemple) is not all there and carries a sharp object which she threatens Sawyer with.  Her mother (Amy Irving) inadvertently lets Sawyer’s stalker into her apartment as he poses to be the maintenance man.  (Message: Never let strangers with no identification into you home.”  The element of audience anticipation is cleverly evoked.

The film has a few flaws.  The monologue that Sawyer delivers to her tormentor that results in his breaking down garnered a few laughs in what was supposed to be a dead serious segment.  UNSANE contains a few ultra-violent scenes reminiscent of another kidnapping film, Stephen King’s MISERY.

Coming out of the film, I heard a member of the public complain that she had watched a dissatisfying movie.  There is nothing dissatisfying about this movie.  Great premise, apt performances and scary atmosphere – no complaints in these departments!  UNSANE is a genuinely scary, well executed movie that brigs closure to all the issues tendered.  What she saw was a less commercialized movie she and many are not used to.