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Last Night I Saw 'Unsane', The Movie Shot Entirely On An iPhone, And I Hated It!

***There will be major spoilers for ‘Unsane’ in this blog, but don’t worry, you ain’t missing anything.***

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Rob’s Monday Morning Movie Review! Last night I caught a 10:05pm showing of ‘Unsane’, Steven Soderberg’s latest, which you may just know as “the movie shot exclusively on an iPhone” that has been making headlines recently. The filmmaking vet claims this is the future of filmmaking, and while I love the do-it-yourself mindset behind that, I can tell you in this case, the future is most certainly not now.

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Right off the bat, let’s talk about the execution of shooting ‘Unsane’ so unconventionally. Did it work? Did Soderbergh pull it off?! Did he successfully make a smartphone look like any other film camera?

No. Not at all. He wasn’t even close, and to be completely honest, I don’t even think he tried. ‘Unsane’ is a jarring watch from its opening seconds because of how cheap it looks, which I sorta expected, but I didn’t realize just how horrible this movie would look to the point where it was impossible to take seriously and almost comedic. LifeTime movies and soap operas look better than the garbage thrown on screen in this one. None of the dolly shots or car shots were stabilized, and none of the shots were color-corrected. Certain shots here and there gave little peaks at Soderbergh’s brilliance, which made me think the rest of the movie was shot poorly so the audience never forgets the gimmick ‘Unsane’ is built on: being the god damn iPhone flick. And that’s the frustrating story of this film – there is a great psychological thriller buried somewhere within this bad screenplay that with a few rewrites and a good team behind it could’ve made it work really well. Even the suggestion of that happening was sold down a river though so Steven Soderbergh could make a stupid gimmick film that’ll be forgotten just as quickly as ‘Hardcore Henry’ was.

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‘Unsane’ opens by showing us Sawyer Valentini’s everyday life. She’s gonna be our main character here, and she is a cube monkey who recently moved away from her home in Boston to take on a new job in Pennsylvania – though it’s hinted that isn’t the only reason she moved. Sawyer is played by Claire Foy, who, god bless her, is very bad at acting. She’s got moments of passion that work, but it’s like she still has a few more courses of “displaying emotion” at liberal arts school that she hasn’t quite completed yet. Her English accent wouldn’t stop poking through as she was attempting to do a Bostonian one, and there were a few times where she veered off course so far she spoke in a Southern twang like she was Holly Hunter.

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Sawyer hooks up with a guy she meets at a bar and brings him back to her apartment, but has what seems like a post-traumatic stress disorder episode right before they’re about to have sex, leading him to leave and for her to seek medical help. She books an appointment with a psychiatrist during her one of her lunch breaks that week, and opens up with the doctor about being a victim of stalking, which is the real reason she moved. She mentions she’s been really shaken up about this for years, and when asked about suicidal thoughts, admits she’s had them. The psychiatrist asks Sawyer to sign some boiler-plate medical forms before moving forward, and when she does, she accidentally agrees for an overnight stay in the hospital’s psychiatric ward. After an unsuccessful 9-1-1 call, Sawyer begins to panic and gets into it with some of the nurses and patients. One, played by Juno Temple, threatens to chop off all of her hair while she slept (with a shank she kept in her waistband). Another gropes her, leading to her kneeing him in the balls. Nurses then enter the room where this is all going down and she sees the face of her stalker in one and punches him in the face, only to realize it was an illusion and she punched a random nurse instead which extended her stay to seven days. Here’s where I expected things to kick into high gear, because in the trailer and all promotional material for ‘Unsane’, it’s marketed as “Is she…or isn’t she…UNSANE!”. You get the sense that Sawyer is going to begin questioning her own sanity and maybe we the audience won’t even know if she belongs in the looney bin or not!

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You get that sense for all of five minutes, after which it’s revealed that she’s not crazy, and that her stalker is legitimately working in the mental ward. Sooooooo…everything you heard about this movie was misleading and it’s no longer the genre it was promoted as, it’s just a student-film looking horror movie. Sawyer keeps freaking out every time she sees David, her stalker, who’s in charge of giving patients their pills, and the hospital keeps thinking she’s crazier and crazier (especially after David drugs Sawyer to make her have a bad trip). From here, Sawyer befriends a seemingly sane person in the hospital named Nate, played by Jay Pharoah, who is BY FAR the best part of ‘Unsane’. He delivers the only continuously enjoyable performance of the film and is the only character I liked. Nate reveals that the hospital keeps patients in the ward involuntarily to reach a quota for their insurance standards so the movie takes a weird turn about scams. Anyway, he somehow snuck a phone into the facility so he allows Sawyer to call her mother from it. When she does, her mom shows up and promises to come back with the police. That doesn’t last long, because somehow David the pervert stalker heard their conversation and just casually goes and murders the mother that night.

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Sawyer, unaware of this, explains the entire stalking backstory to Nate, where MATT FUCKING DAMON shows up in a flashback sequence and completely takes you out of the movie. Multiple people in my theater literally said “Is that MATT DAMON?!” out loud, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of Damon delivering such serious lines into a fucking iPhone. He’s just a surprise in every movie he does now, sneakin’ his way onto every set in Hollywood from ‘Interstellar’ to ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ to this.

David sees how close Nate and Sawyer are getting as friends at this point, so he drugs Nate, brings him to the basement of the center, and tortures him with some defibrillator shots to the brain, then OD’s his unconscious body on opiates and just leaves his body to be discovered. Kinda fucked up!

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Sawyer’s sent into solitary confinement for continuing to lose her mind and “sneaking” a phone in, although the phone found under her bed was placed there by David. Now we get to the climax of the film, the big dramatic showdown where David and Sawyer are locked in a small padded room together. It’s really tense, because your thought is just “Please don’t rape her please don’t rape her please don’t rape her!”, but the guy that plays David was unbelievably horrible and when he’s opposite homegirl who’s accent is going every which way, all seriousness is sucked out of the scene. She convinces him to bring Juno Temple’s character into the room and rape her, because David had never had sex before and Sawyer wanted to show him what he was missing before she embarks as his wife forever, and when he does, Sawyer pulls the shank out of Violet’s waistband and stabs David in the neck. It was a nice callback to earlier in the movie and a satisfying end to our creepy villain…or so I thought.

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As Sawyer slams the door of her cell shut, stabbed-David and drugged-Violent still in there, he snaps Violet’s neck. Sawyer runs out of the hospital full speed ahead and is met with a club to the face the second she escapes. It’s David, of course. He’s now hit the troupe of being every unkillable monster in a horror movie, eating a deep shank to the esophagus and feeling no pain. He throws Sawyer in his trunk, where her dead mom already is, and drives her into the woods. Eventually he takes a hammer to both of her ankles, lays her down in the leaves, and she stabs him in the eyeball with a crucifix necklace her mother once wore.

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We just jump months into the future, where it is revealed that Nate, who David murdered, was an undercover journalist trying to see if the hospital was unjustly keeping patients in their facility for too long involuntarily, and the police have enough evidence to shut the place down. Sawyer’s fine, and eating lunch with a girl from work, until she sees someone who looks like David, prepares to stab him, and then it’s not even him. The final shot is a freeze frame of her afraid face that just keeps zooming on in like she’s the star of an extreme Ken Burns documentary.

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The one pro ‘Unsane’ has going for it is that it keeps your interest pretty much the entire time, but for all of the wrong reasons. The payoff also isn’t worth the build, and it goes on for about twenty minutes too many while rushing the interesting aspects of the movie. Like I said earlier, somewhere in ‘Unsane’ lies a really good movie. It ain’t this one however. This one fucking sucked.