Unsane is Steven Soderbergh’s latest film—and I think it’s a gamechanger in terms of the way you make films (as well as being a great film). It was shot on an iPhone – not the first, of course, that was Tangerine, but the first by a major Hollywood filmmaker. It is a visually pleasing film which can be an issue early films using “new” digital technology face.
It’s a twisted psychological thriller/horror film, a bit like Shock Corridor. The 90-minute film stars Claire Foy, best known for her role in The Crown as the young Queen Elizabeth II. Foy is having frightening reactions every time she has to interact with men, bringing back memories of a past stalker. She makes an appointment with a counsellor at the Highland Creek Behavior Center, and unknowingly signs a form that agrees to a 24-hour commitment. She calls the police, but they won’t help, and then she starts lashing out at staff and patients. This results in a seven-day hold, and her grip on reality starts to go.
And guess who may be working at the clinic—the stalker (or is she actually nuts?)
Foy is great in the role, but that’s no surprise. It certainly owes a lot to Fuller’s 1963 film, as well as Soderbergh’s earlier Side Effects. It’s a solid thriller with plenty of twists, and great distorted imagery that gets you inside the lead character’s mind. There are also some digs at the US healthcare industry, with another patient saying the whole situation is down to trying to maximise insurance claims. There’s also an almost laugh-out-loud cameo from one of his frequent collaborators, Matt Damon, which is so unexpected.
Soderbergh has always experimented with cameras and was an early adopter of digital. He used DV for one of his worst movies, Full Frontal, in 2002. And he says he has now decided to stick with the iPhone, which is surprising. Unsane was shot in ten days in 4K, using the FiLMiC Pro app.
While you could see it as a technical exercise, Unsane is just as much a good genre piece. You could also say it feeds into the #TimesUp zeitgeist as well. Soderbergh himself is certainly done with Hollywood at this point. His last five films, including Magic Mike (which is a much better movie than you might think) have been the movies he really wants to make. That’s good, because they’re much more interesting than the films he had been hired to direct at times. Finding better ways to make and distribute movies is clearly sparking creativity, as in the case of Logan Lucky, which he distributed himself. His murder mystery for HBO, Mosaic, is another example, which was released with an app that gave viewers another way to watch it.
The last act, when the action is occurring at night, is where the visuals really start to suffer. The colour scheme turns blueish, a colour choice that was made because of the limits of the technology when shooting in the dark. It works, but to me it does start looking a little low-budget at that point.
I’ve always been a fan of Soderbergh, although he can be very hit-and-miss. But he’s at a really good point in his career, where he can do what he wants—and most of the time, that’s something good.
The DVD includes some behind-the-scenes footage that illustrates the filmmaking process. Soderbergh shot and edited the film himself, as is his usual practice (although he uses pseudonyms in the credits). It’s a thriller that’s really quite good, and is holding a spot on my list of the year’s best so far. It’s worth noting that HMV has a exclusive Blu-Ray release while the general release is DVD only.