UNSANE is a Sick, Diabolical and Twisted Thriller

Kernel Jack had the joy of reviewing Soderbergh’s latest. For a retired guy he is doing a lot of work :). The highlight of UNSANE is that Soderbergh shot the entire thing on an iPhone – but I will leave most of that for Jack to discuss. UNSANE embraced the insanity and decided to release on the same day as AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, I can’t see many tickets being purchased for this one today but then again the target audience will be quite different. I am going to see it because I am all over sick, diabolical and twisted thrillers. UNSANE is out now from the folks at 20th Century Fox, it is rated MA15+ and runs for 98mins. Enjoy Jack’s analysis………..all the best………..Salty.


Not even retirement could stop Oscar Winning director Steven Soderbergh, who returned to the big screen just last year after a near non-existent ‘retirement,’ in which he still had time to produce an entire TV show and serve as cinematographer on the sequel to MAGIC MIKE. He’s a director who knows no bounds. His work is audacious and exciting, and his latest psychological thriller, UNSANE, sees him following in the footsteps of Sean Baker’s TANGERINE and shooting the film entirely on an iPhone 7. A gimmick? Sure. But does it work? Kind of.


Unsane Movie image
Unsane Movie image



Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) has hit the reset button on the life she once knew. After a horrific incident of stalking, which ended with her filing a restraining order against her former client David Strine (Joshua Leonard), Sawyer moves to Boston and starts fresh. But the trauma of her past continues to haunt her. She’s delusional and suicidal, and in desperate need of therapy. However, after an initial therapy session, Sawyer soon finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she can’t escape. And worst of all? Her former stalker, David, is now working as one of the employees.


It’s a tense, taut, hallucinogenic thriller that works, in large thanks to the low expectations I had going in. If you’ve seen the trailer for this movie, you’ve probably already created a certain image of the way you think this film is going to go. It looks to be one thing, but in reality, it’s something else entirely. UNSANE isn’t a questioning of our protagonist’s sanity, we know she’s sane (or at least sane to a certain degree). It’s a questioning of our protagonist’s survival as she’s forced to confront the insidious, violent stalker who nobody believes is the same man she claims he once was.


Unsane Movie image
Unsane Movie image



The effectiveness of UNSANE, for the most part, is due to Soderbergh’s unsettling direction. His use of the iPhone as a camera adds a layer of visual unease, where everything on screen feels incredibly uncomfortable and very claustrophobic. A lot of the more secluded, smaller sets feel ominous and inhuman, almost working as their own character in a way. Unfortunately though, the visuals are ugly more often than they are creepy. There’s only so far an iPhone can take you and some of the shots in this movie are unfathomably bad. An early therapy session in particular is noticeably awful in its visual design.

Soderbergh was adamant that, as an audience member, you won’t notice the difference, but trust me, you can, and it’s far from pretty. Soderbergh hopes to only shoot on iPhones from now on. Let’s hope that next time he uses it more effectively.


Unsane Movie image
Unsane Movie image



However, a lot of the film is saved thanks to lead performances from Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard. Foy, fresh off of her run on Netflix’s THE CROWN, gives this her absolute all. The performance is incredibly draining, and it takes a lot to showcase the raw, unsettled emotions her character has to go through, but she nails it from start to finish. A third act breakdown is particularly effective, matched perfectly by a haunting, ominous performance from Leonard, whose villainous stalker is unrelenting in his viciousness. This film has a finale so revolting and unsettling that it’s impossible to see coming. And I loved it.

Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s screenplay is big on ideas, but not so effective in execution. You can feel their overarching goal pushing through towards the surface, but it’s burdened by mediocre dialogue and poor characterization. You feel sympathy towards Sawyer due to her dire situation, but you don’t necessarily connect with her as much as I would’ve liked. There’s enough there for this film to work, but it could’ve been so much more. Given another rewrite, the film would’ve burst to life in ways this current draft only hints at.


Unsane Movie image
Unsane Movie image



If sick, twisted thrillers are your thing, UNSANE is for you. This diabolical, unsettling film will shake you and revolt you while retaining its sense of unease and intrigue. Some of the scenes do require you to stretch your believability just a little too far, and at one point one of the characters receives superhuman strength for all of thirty seconds in a hilariously bad murder scene, but low-tier Soderbergh is still good cinema.





When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages. He has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – www.directorscutmovies.com – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.