Oscar-winning Director Steven Soderbergh is an often unorthodox helmsman who has certainly had some major successes in the past.  TRAFFIC – ERIN BROCKOVICH– SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE – OCEAN’S ELEVEN, TWELVE and THIRTEEN and MAGIC MIKE have all enjoyed considerable box office returns and I personally have found that many of his other works, despite not reaching the same heights in popularity and / or critical approval, are always extremely watchable and engrossing.  THE GOOD GERMAN – CONTAGION – HAYWIRE and SIDE EFFECTS are examples.  His more recent offerings have ranged widely across genres, from the glitzy camp of BEHIND THE CANDELABRA to the high-octane grittiness of LOGAN LUCKY.


His current film, UNSANE, is unusual in that he has dispensed with the customary methods of filming and instead used an iPhone 7 Plus in 4K using the app FiLMiC Pro in lieu of a movie camera.  Soderbergh did all the cinematography himself (he also edited) and the entire project was completed in a mere ten days with a budget of only $1.2 million. 


British actress Claire Foy is very hot property in Tinsel Town at present.  Her two seasons of THE CROWN in which she plays the young Elizabeth have won her Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild awards and BAFTA and Primetime Emmy nominations and it was her Golden Globe acceptance speech that brought her to the attention of Soderbergh.


Claire plays Sawyer Valentini, a harassed young woman who has moved to a new town to escape the relentless presence of a male stalker named David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She is struggling to put the past behind her and after searching online for support groups for people in similar circumstances, she makes an appointment with a mental health professional and at its conclusion the counselor suggests she sign up for extra counseling.  However, Sawyer has been duped and all too late realizes that she has instead been committed involuntarily to an institution named Highland Creek for the next 24 hours.  While there she meets some fellow inmates including the aggressive Violet (Juno Temple ) and the more comforting Nate (Jay Pharoah).  When attempting to convince the doctors to allow her to leave the facility she sees (or assumes so) David Strine.  He is working there as an orderly under the name George Shaw.  Her reaction is swift and violent leading to her being sedated and then being told by the head doctor that she will be kept there for an additional week due to her outburst.


Sawyer is desperate.  She discovers that Nate has a secreted cell phone and borrows it to call her mother Angela (Amy Irving) who rushes from Boston to confront the authorities at Highland and free her daughter.  Angela has booked into a motel when there is a knock at the door from someone claiming to be from maintenance. It is David Strine. 

From this point the plot becomes very gnarled and throws in surprises, ultimately culminating in Soderbergh’s twist at the finale.


There are numerous downsides to this venture into psychiatric Grand Guignol that does have many plot holes and occasional absurdities.  The narrative is fast-paced but writers James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein had their work cut out trying to fit so many elements into this 98 minute film.  Apart from the ‘is she crazy or not’ aspect of Foy’s character, there are sidebar plots about why Nate is in the institution, the discovery of a body in a park that could be David Strine, nefarious goings-on including torture and murder in the facility, kidnapping and much more.  They have to jockey for position with the underlying themes of stalking, mental health issues, the duplicity of many medical insurance rackets and the short term incarceration ‘industry’.  


It is all too much.


However, Foy, with the absolute commitment of her complex and daring performance, keeps it watchable.  Polly McKie as the Ratched-style Nurse Boles is a standout and Matt Damon gives a cameo as a distinctly strange police officer who tries to help Sawyer to ‘stalker-proof’ her life.  


While the overall success of the film may be somewhat diminished by the gaping plot holes in the second half, Soderbergh shows us that he is still a formidable director at the top of his game.  He is treading very well-worn cinematic territory here. The idea of someone (customarily a young woman) being confined against their will in an ‘asylum’ or of nefarious goings-on in such institutions dates back to the 1920 CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and winds its way through Mark Robson’s BEDLAM in 1946, Livvy de Havilland in Anatole Litvak’s 1948 THE SNAKE PIT and subsequent similar-themed movies.  But Soderbergh brings a new twist on the theme (primarily, in this case, the motivation of why Sawyer and others find themselves hospitalized.)






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