Films released in the first quarter of the year are known for ranging from passable to dreadful. With these low expectations in mind, Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane (2018) still manages to disappoint with its predictable story, messy structure, and generally unimpressive cinematic style.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) was adjusting to life in a new city until a nervous breakdown leads her to seek out psychiatric help. After unknowingly committing herself to a psychiatric ward, Valentini fears that her stalker might be looming in the hospital hallways. If you didn’t know that Unsane was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus, the movie’s color quality and strange frame might tip you off. Though you could attribute the muted colors and oddly square frame to Soderbergh trying to unsettle the audience with an unordinary style, or as he’s touted in interviews, pioneering an ‘innovative’ new movement in film, I’m willing to bet that this choice was made for the sole purpose of making a dirt-cheap horror movie.
Part of what makes this story difficult to engross yourself into is the film’s messy structure. Rather than start the film with Valentini’s plight with her stalker and make her sympathetic, we start our story two years after she files a restraining order and moves from her hometown. As a result, our first exposure to our protagonist is through a mundane workday, a phone call filled with forced exposition, and a counselling session in which Valentini admits to having suicidal thoughts. Why Valentini doesn’t think that this admission would lead her to being committed is unbelievable to me, especially since later in the film, she claims to have studied to be a doctor herself. In addition, because the audience hasn’t been exposed to Valentini’s experience as a victim of stalking firsthand, when she starts acting out in the psychiatric ward, it’s a reasonable assumption that our protagonist is an unreliable character, which goes against the film’s intent of making Valentini sympathetic.
When I say you’ll never guess what happens in this film, I’m lying straight to your face. At this point I can’t tell if I’ve seen too many horror films, or if I’ve just become that jaded of a movie-goer if I can call every ‘twist’ and ‘turn’ a picture has about ten minutes in advanced. I wouldn’t be so bitter about this film had it ended promptly, but instead the movie feels it’s so gripping that it needs to end four times before the credits roll. Every time I thought Unsane was finally over, the screen flickered back to life to bring me another ten minutes worth of predictable horror schlock. Overall, Unsane was a never-ending nightmare I was desperate to wake up from.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in Sociology, along with Certificates in Exile Studies and Film Studies.