Unsane, which is being sold both as a thriller and a low-key horror movie, is one of those films with a cool premise that paints itself into a corner.
Frankly, it goes a certain way only because there’s no other way to go. It’s not abysmal by any stretch; in fact, Unsane is highly entertaining throughout most of its brief running time, but as it reaches its climax, the enjoyment turns to frustration when you realize what could have been.
Claire Foy (The Crown‘s Queen Elizabeth) is the movie’s star, and she is convincing as the disturbed, confused Sawyer Valentini (too bad about that “American” accent, though). Keeping this review spoiler-free, we’ll be brief with the plot description. Valentini becomes concerned for her mental well-being when she starts to see her stalker ex-boyfriend everywhere — at work, on the street, near her home. She goes to a nearby psychiatric facility to get checked out and … isn’t able to leave.
This entire movie was shot on an iPhone?
That’s the gimmick. Aside from a few awkward angles (think up-the-nose and super-up-close), it’s not really that noticeable unless you’re a hardcore film geek. Horror fans especially are used to the gritty, grainy footage of movies past, so this isn’t anything new. It can at least serve as a happy reminder for all the at-home moviemakers: if director Steven Soderberg can slap this together using a phone, think of what you can do, too.
Are there a lot of horror elements?
Yes. This movie has scares galore, and a few gross-out moments. It’s more about the occasional jump-scares and sudden gore, which can be tough to watch, even for those of us used to horror movies. (If you’re afraid of needles, your eyes will be closed for a few minutes of the film.)
For the most part, Unsane feels more like a whodunit mystery rather than a straight-up horror or thriller. For the first half of the film, you’ll be working to piece together clues, but then, rather abruptly, the movie shows its cards outright and the element of uncertainty disappears. It’s really that fast.
But you said it wasn’t a bad movie.
It’s not. When you combine its original premise, the acting and the overall feeling, it’s not a bad little piece of cinema. It just could have been so much more. The question of “am I mentally unstable or is what I’m seeing actually real?” is a fascinating one, and it’s timely in our contemporary era. The tumultuousness of literally every facet of modern life — from the internet to politics to family — can genuinely make anybody question if they’re going mad.
In a nutshell, Unsane blows its own cover.
So what’s the bottom line?
Not quite a horror, not quite a mystery, Unsane is an original foray, a blend of genres. After its big reveal about halfway through, there’s nowhere else for the film to go, and that, unfortunately, eradicates the suspense. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable on some level: Foy, for her part, is always a pleasure to watch, and many of her psych wardmates are entertaining, too.
But the movie steals its own thunder. Instead of pleasantly dissecting the movie afterwards, you may find yourself ruing what could have been.
‘Unsane’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.