[Screen It]


(2018) (Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: After being committed to a mental facility against her will, a young woman tries to get anyone to believe that one of the orderlies there is actually her stalker.
Sawyer Valentini (CLAIRE FOY) is a young woman trying to make a go of it in a city nearly 500 miles from where she grew up with her mom, Angela (AMY IRVING). While she seems to be good at her bank job analyzing data, she doesn't have many friends and doesn't seem entirely comfortable in the place.

And that's because she's still reeling from her past difficulties with a stalker obsessed with every aspect of her life. Accordingly, she visits a mental health practitioner where she admits that she occasionally has suicidal thoughts, but when she signs related papers she doesn't realize she's voluntarily committing herself for 24 hours of observation at the facility.

After an unsettling encounter with one patient, Violet (JUNO TEMPLE), things go from bad to worse when she ignores the advice of another seemingly sane patient, Nate Hoffman (JAY PHAROAH). Rather than lay low for the duration of her stay she hits another patient she believes is about to attack her. And she then strikes one of the orderlies, George Shaw (JOSHUA LEONARD), who she claims is really her stalker, David Strine.

All of which leads the staff to believe her commitment period needs to be extended. With Nate being her only friend and confidant in the facility -- and who allows her to use his contraband cell phone to call her mother -- Sawyer tries to maintain her sanity, especially when no one will believe her claims that George is really her stalker and that her life is in danger.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In almost every instance I can think of, people will usually choose -- for obvious reasons -- something that's reliable rather than unreliable. After all, would you want to buy a car where it's uncertain that you'll get to your destination? Or hire a lawyer who may or may not show up in court?

The only sort of unreliable character that I can think of who people don't seem to mind interacting with, however, are so-called unreliable narrators in works of fiction. And that's because uncertainty in such instances can often lead to a more entertaining experience that escapes from the usual, predictive norm.

Those sorts of narrators come in two distinct flavors -- those who are purposefully trying to manipulate or misdirect others, and those who act that way but not out of their own conscious choice. And such characters don't necessarily have to be an actual narrator (on camera or via voice-over) as their actions and statements in the context of the story serve the same purpose.

In director Steven Soderbergh's latest offering, "Unsane," Claire Foy plays a character of the second variety. Young, several hundred miles away from home and with an alleged stalker in her past, she's lonely and wound rather tightly, evidenced by her attempts to have a one-night stand of her own arrangement going south when she has a panic attack.

She seeks out a counselor, admits to occasionally having suicidal thoughts, signs some papers without reading the fine print and is then shocked to discover she's involuntarily committed herself to a 24-hour stint in a psychiatric ward. She obviously freaks out which doesn't bode well for the observant staff's view of her mental stability, and before long she assaults not one but two people there, thus cementing her odds for her a longer stay, a daily regimen of pills, and a downhill slide from there.

As written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, things get more interesting when she claims that one of the orderlies (Joshua Leonard) is actually her past stalker. Of course, he denies it, the rest of the staff continue with their "uh-huh" assessment of her, and even her one apparent confidant in the place (Jay Pharoah) has his doubts about her claim, but nonetheless remains supportive and as helpful as he can (including allowing her to call her mom -- played by Amy Irving -- via his contraband cell phone).

From that point on, we the viewers must determine whether she's telling the truth or if her grasp with reality and mental stability is loosening. For a while that works, and even explains some credibility-straining matters such as the facility having all of the patients, male and female, and of varying mental issues, bunk together in one common open area (where sexual assault would likely be a huge concern if not all-too-real and common of an issue).

Not to mention having a certain "Good Will Hunting" star show up in a flashback cameo appearance that's distracting and certainly not necessary, or why the film looks the way it does. Soderbergh, serving as his own cinematographer, shot the entire project using an iPhone and it's not hard to tell when that's projected up on the big screen, especially with subpar lighting and weird depth of field that initially distracted me, but then felt in place in regard to the protagonist's unstable mental state.

But from a storytelling perspective, I think the truth is revealed too soon and thus quickly turns a psychological thriller where nothing is certain and our protagonist is unreliable into a more traditional suspense thriller where everything is known and on the table for all to see. That doesn't mean it derails at that point, but it becomes a bit less interesting.

Maybe it would have been too difficult to keep the truth hidden until the very end and thus all involved opted to get it out, eliminate any viewer ponderment and related distractions, and then simply run with the rest of the material from there.

Whatever the case and regardless of how I might have tinkered with the script to keep the uncertainty going as long as possible, what's present works well enough that "Unsane" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 19, 2018 / Posted March 23, 2018

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