'Unsane' delivers twisted thrills from a corrupt mental institution

Other | Tuesday 27th March 2018 | David

For better or worse, the films of Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky, Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight) tend to have a cold, clinical, slickly professional quality to their craft. So when the drama moves to the sanitised hallways of a mental institution in this twisted new psychological thriller, the veteran filmmaker is right in his element, so long as the script doesn’t get in his way.

Claire Foy delivers a riveting, high-strung performance in the role of Sawyer, a plain-spoken, tightly-wound data analyst who was recently the victim of stalking. Still anxious from the experience, Sawyer seeks support from the local institution only to be duped into committing herself as part of a scam to milk some profit from her medical insurance. To make matters worse, one of the hospital workers appears to be the spitting image of Sawyer’s former stalker – though the question lingers of whether his presence is a mere product of her paranoid delusions.


From here, the story spirals into increasingly dark, deranged and farfetched territory that sacrifices believability for the sake of compellingly crafted lunacy. While Unsane doesn’t seem entirely sure how seriously it wants to be taken – careening between understated realism and horror show hysteria – Soderbergh sporadically succeeds in blending these two modes for an eerie reflection of our current era.

The predatory behaviour exposed by the Me Too movement is unmistakeably echoed in Sawyer’s exploitation at the hands of various callous and creepy authority figures. But more generally, the banal corruption of the mental institution channels the pervasive greed and alienation of the modern world, where human beings are used and disposed of with all the efficiency of a dating app hook-up (it's no mere gimmick that the film was shot entirely on an iPhone).

In its most unhinged and outrageous moments, Unsane loses its grasp on this lonely, troubling vision of our times but the proficient work of Soderbergh and Foy ensures that this messy, absorbing film has our eyes, even when it doesn’t have our minds.

Unsane is in UK cinemas now!