When Edward Snowden leaked the truth behind mass surveillance of civilians and Mark Zuckerberg revealed he covers his computer webcam, the reaction was not surprise but extreme paranoia. The phones that store so much of our information can be turned against us but they can also be powerful tools. Steven Soderbergh turns to the iPhone to shoot and bring to life a story of paranoia and surveillance in the chilling Unsane.
The film follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) who moves town and changes job after a disturbing episode with an intense stalker. She feels anxious and visits a mental health institution only to be involuntarily admitted into the ward for an indeterminate period. Sawyer is an outspoken woman without a filter and raises a lot of hell to try and get out, but she begins to genuinely lose her mind when her stalker (Joshua Leonard) appears as an attendant in the facility.
The masterful pacing allows the story to creep up on the viewer like a stalker, luring them into a false sense of security that everything will be fine, before escalating into a delirious, psychological frenzy. Soderbergh keeps the first half lively with humour and pathos courtesy of the surprising performance from Jay Pharoah, who mentors Sawyer. Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard play a terrific cat and mouse as they try to constantly outwit each other in increasingly, disturbing fashion. The mental health facility uses loopholes to trick people into becoming patients and holds them against their will until their insurance runs out. Therefore, Sawyer has two enemies: her stalker and the mental health-industrial complex that has trapped her with him.
The iPhone aesthetic adds an uncomfortable familiarity to the action. Some shots put us in the seat of a stalker, filming everything from afar, and other shots appear real, as if pulled from some horrific news story. Unsane’s innovation engages the audience on a deeper emotional level than most glossy Hollywood thrillers by combining haunting twists and turns with a gritty, naturalistic aesthetic.
On paper, Unsane is another sexual predator, serial killer horror movie, but it offers so much more. This character-driven thriller delivers a quick-witted, gut-punching story of overcoming trauma, systemic exploitation and twisted masculinity.
Unsane is released nationwide on 23rd March 2018.
Read more reviews and interviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Unsane here: