In Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic world, the mental health and pharmaceutical industries come with even more side effects than the lengthy list we hear following commercials. They come with frequent plot twists, relationships ending in blood spattered bursts, and the stylistic flourishes we’ve come to expect from the director. This was explored first in 2013’s Side Effects and it’s continued now with Unsane.
This is a nasty little low-budget psychological thriller that saves much of its venom toward the cure for wellness empire and insurance game that benefits from it. It’s also a traditional stalker tale unless that aspect is all in our lead’s head. Part of the mystery is finding that out, for a bit.
Claire Foy is Sawyer, a banker who left Boston in fear of a man she obtained a restraining order against. We briefly see her day-to-day activities in which she can’t escape his shadow and can’t seem to have normal interactions with dates or coworkers. Her issues bring her to Highland Creek Behavioral Center where she believes she’s had a healthy conversation with a counselor. Yet that brief errand on her way to work turns into another situation she can’t escape from.
Held at the facility against her will, the audience is left to decide whether she truly belongs there or if there’s truth or delusion to her surroundings. Sawyer maintains that her stalker is orderly David (Joshua Leonard) and that he’s tracked her down in an elaborate scheme to be with her. No one bothers to really listen to her with the exception of her mother (Amy Irving) and a fellow patient (Jay Pharoah) with access to a cell phone.
Unsane doesn’t keep the plot’s central mystery going for long. Approximately halfway through, we know what’s up. Soderbergh and screenwriters Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer are then tasked with holding our attention. They mostly succeed partly to, ahem, a committed performance from Foy and the director’s undeniable glee in shooting this gory B-movie (on an iPhone by the way).
Soderbegh, who’s made great pictures, is known for these occasional side excursions into genre fare. This one is mostly minor with its own side indictments of big business. Had those issues been explored with more focus, Unsane could have been more than its rather trivial (if skillfully made) vibe. The aforementioned Side Effects is a stronger example of Soderbergh working in this realm, but that pic had some third act letdowns itself. There’s some fun to be had in the first half, but Unsane is more of a curiosity than anything else.
**1/2 (out of four)