Aug 28, 2018
Next week we’ll be starting Takeover Tuesday, where a listener, fellow podcaster, and/or fellow broadcaster will takeover our Tuesday episode with their own review, mostly following our format with a few common sense guidelines. If you’re interested in participating, head over to onemoviepunch.com/takeover-tuesday, learn more about the process, and if you’re up for it, get involved. Who knows? Maybe you’ll hear your voice on this podcast in the future.
However, this week, we’re checking out another Steven Soderbergh film from earlier this year. No, not “Ocean’s 8”, but a much darker, more independent feature. If you dig Soderbergh, check out my review of “Logan Lucky” (Episode #065). And if you have a favorite, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Unsane” (2018), the independent thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer. The film follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a woman who has fled an abusive relationship, but struggles with seeing her ex-partner wherever she goes. After seeking treatment for her paranoia, she finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental institution, struggling with the staff to be released, and finding her stalker an employee at the center. The film was shot entirely on an iPhone, captured just over ten days.
On the surface, “Unsane” can feel like a gimmick, shot on a smartphone on a tight budget, almost a dare to see if it could be done. The process comes with a lot of limitations, but the technology has progressed much further than ever before, both the capturing hardware (4K Video Camera) and the processing software (operating system and applications). I’ve watched my own daughter take an iPod Touch years ago to capture and cut a music video, using what was around her, and it was rough, but workable. And sure, in some ways, it means that anyone can make movies, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think it means that anyone now has access to make a movie, and in a strange way, the technology, in this case, has brought filmmaking back to first principles.
I was really impressed with “Unsane”, watching Soderbergh both utilize and experiment with the technology. It’s almost disconcerting at times, being captured in such high definition, making everything look so real, almost like footage captured in an undercover news investigation, a major plot point. However, it also looks and feels like so many camcorder-based movies made in the 1980s, specifically the realism of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”, a look and feel built into the title and end credits, not to mention the soundtrack. Soderbergh’s ability to blend these elements together is what separates him from most folks trying the same thing with their smartphones. It’s always been about more than the technology.
The story is probably the biggest flaw in the film, brilliantly conceived, but a little rough around the edges. Restrained patients aren’t placed in a group room like that. Background checks for hospitals would have caught her stalker. Sure, a hospital that was scamming insurance through involuntary commitment would probably ignore these requirements, but the process felt contrived. However, the cast is actually quite amazing, especially Claire Foy, giving a very real performance, and understanding the limitations, and the opportunities, of shooting on an iPhone. Jay Pharoah is a great support as Nate Hoffman, and Joshua Leonard is super creepy as David Strine, Claire’s stalker. Their performances, and Soderbergh’s direction, help smooth over the story flaws, and deliver an excellent concept film, one that has inspired Soderbergh to shoot another iPhone-only movie in the near future.
“Unsane” (2018) is a well-executed concept film that works well within its self-imposed limitations. While struggling a bit with the script, the cast and direction more than make up for any noticeable flaws. Fans of 1980s thrillers, or folks who just want to see what a film shot on a phone might look like, should definitely check out this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80% (CERTIFIED)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“Unsane” (2018) is rated R and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.