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Published On: Fri, Mar 23rd, 2018

Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ gets lost in hopelessness and despair

With its US opening on March 23, 2018 just around the corner, you might have seen more and more of the intriguing trailers for Unsane. which tells the story of Sawyer Valentini and her stint in a mental health facility where she believes her former-stalker has secured a position to continue tormenting her.  

Well, I hope the editor of the trailers gets whatever recognition is awarded for doing a great job in that capacity because I found the trailers much more interesting than the actual film.

Since I like to recognize the positive whenever possible, let’s start there.  The story is a clever concept. Is Sawyer (played by Claire Foy) really losing her mind?  Is this really her stalker? Does he just look like him? Since she unexpectedly ended up in this facility (which is done in a very awkward manner), how could the “villain” have possibly found her and wormed his way into this setting?  

Based on the promising trailers, I expected the story to unfold in an interesting way. Instead it was laid out in a manner that made me feel like I was the mental patient feeling lost and confused.

Wait…back to the positives.  

The lighting work was well done if you consider that they were trying to make the audience feel like they were mentally “in the dark” and unable to discern fantasy from reality.  I really don’t think they had a small budget for light bulbs but that they were using the limited lighting to create an ambiance of unclear perceptions to put you in Sawyer’s state of confusion and lack of clarity.  That’s not what I expected nor did I enjoy that unsettling feeling.

Oops.  

I slipped away from the positives again.  

The film has a popular director’s name to boast, Steven Soderbergh, who is known for Erin Brokovich and the Ocean’s 11 franchise.  But this movie doesn’t “feel” like those.  Soderbergh also directed Insomnia, Magic Mike, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape.  Aside from the sexuality of Magic Mike and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, what do you recall about that set of films?  

I don’t recall impactful stories with any redeeming values whatsoever.  Realizing these productions are in his resume, I see that he is drawn to making films that have a sense of hopelessness, lack of direction, despair, and even a bit of depravity.  That’s just not my idea of a fun night at the movies. There I go again, trying to say something nice and it just goes downhill for me.

I can definitely say that the cast did a very good job in their respective roles.  It was especially interesting to see SNL alumni Jay Pharoah in a serious role.  It was so out of character that I didn’t even realize where I had seen the actor until I looked up the cast afterwards.  Joshua Leonard definitely stole the scene where he (“the stalker”) confronts Sawyer showing a great range of emotions and vulnerability.  

Finally, Juno Temple was very convincing as the hostile mental patient who taunts Sawyer repeatedly although it’s never clear what her illness may be.  I wish I could say more about Claire Foy’s portrayal of Sawyer, but I think the way the character is written just worked against her leaving her uninteresting and two dimensional.  By the time I figured out if Sawyer was crazy or not, I just didn’t care about her. Even when they try to write in a caring and nurturing back story for her, it is just flat, boring, and cold.  Foy was much more believable and interesting playing the Queen of England (not generally known for her bubbly and engaging personality) in Netflix’s The Crown.

If you like sadness, despair, confusion, and feeling lost, then you might enjoy this film.  If you enjoy seeing people victimized and psychologically scarred, this one’s for you. But if you need your entertainment to have some sort of redeeming value, you should probably steer clear of Unsane.

Author: Debbie Sage

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- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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