Steven Soderbergh's new film, Unsane, fits into a long list of "Who's crazy here?" Stories. Films like The Lady Vanishes, by Alfred Hitchcock, Bunny Lake, by Otto Preminger, and modern equivalents, such as Flightplan and The Forgotten, depend on whether the protagonists are deceived, and that someone they remember clearly has never existed. Unsane plays a similar game, with The Crown & # 39; s Claire Foy as a frail and angry woman convinced that her stalker has somehow infiltrated the psychiatric ward where she has engaged. For the first act more or less, Soderbergh mocks the audience with the possibilities. Is Foy's character, Sawyer, really riddled, or are his caretakers right when they tell him he's irrational and can not trust what he's seeing?
However, the public may feel that they are in the same position as Sawyer, who is being enlightened by the huge gap between what he will see on the screen and what Soderbergh is telling them they are seeing. Soderbergh filmed the whole of Unsane with the iPhone 7 Plus, and has been singing the praises of the camera in the press. "I've seen it at 40 feet tall, it looks like velvet, this is a game changer for me," he told Indiewire. "I see this as one of the most liberating experiences I've had as a filmmaker." He is already filming a second movie for iPhone, an NBA drama called High Flying Bird.
Soderbergh is not the first director to shoot a theatrical movie entirely with iPhones, but he is the most prominent and consolidated filmmaker who has tried it to date. The 30-year industry veteran has a long list of beautifully filmed movies to his credit, including Out of Sight, the films of Oceans 11, The Informant !, and the films of Magic Mike. Usually, he serves as his own director of photography; He likes to experiment with form and style. Learn about camera technology and how to combine the look of a movie with its content.
But his latest film is not as convincing as his enthusiastic quotes about it. Much of Unsane takes place in that hospital, where Sawyer first tries to convince the staff that he is perfectly well and under control, and then one of the nurses, George (Joshua Leonard) is actually the predatory man who ruined his life . His room is a grimy space with little light, and the iPhone's 4K video camera does not handle the low light conditions very well. The faces disappear in fuzzy blur, the colors tend towards a muddy yellowish brown, and the sources of light are extinguished in glows of distracting white. The Caucasian characters are stained and diseased, and the black characters seem shadows. It's easy to see how shooting with a phone was liberating in technical terms, especially for a filmmaker who is constantly working on DIY models that will allow him to escape the Hollywood finance and marketing industry. But it's hard to believe that this is the best aesthetic choice for the film, especially for a small-scale human story where all the action comes from the characters' encounters, and their facial expressions are so important to the action.
Behind the scenes at UnsanePhoto courtesy of Bleecker Street
Narratively, Unsane is an anguished and memorable movie. Screenwriters Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer show viewers what it feels like the second season of an ordinary story: Sawyer has just moved to a new city, started a new job and got a new home, all to avoid a stalker who she decided that they were destined for each other, and she has solved all her crazy fantasies in an image of her that he has created. When she confesses her anxiety and fear to a counselor, she admits that she considers herself suicidal. The counselor quickly gives her some papers to sign, and before Sawyer knows what is happening, she is locked in a room with a series of sensible nurses, who are ordered to strip and give all their belongings. The documentation that she did not bother to read has forced her to be observed, in a closed pavilion where she is surrounded by menacing and disconcerting patients, and hospital employees who treat her like an animal that misbehaves. It lashes out in frustration, but each explosion is taken as another indication that it needs to be institutionalized, and its situation progressively worse.
Stories like Unsane and his predecessors in the subgenre "Who's crazy here?" They are at their best when they play openly with the changing understanding of the audience of what is really happening. Films like Bunny Lake Is Missing trace the mystery to the detail, making it seem possible that the protagonist is really delirious, and that she is the only one who does not realize her own break with reality. Unsane does not take out the thread while other films of this type, but the strength of his compact character work a lot of horror in a small space. Sawyer's anger at being threatened, caged, drugged and restrained is understandable, but she also goes to a place of shrill violence so quickly and completely that it is easy to understand why her caregivers question her rationality. There is great empathy in this story: it is clear why Sawyer's reactions are so extreme, and why he considers his situation to be exasperating and unsustainable. It is also clear why anyone who looks at her would think that it is a danger to her and to others. The filmmakers do an excellent job of increasing the tension so that they invite viewers to wonder how well they would behave in Sawyer's position, and if they could find a way out of the room to which they are condemned.
Juno Temple and Claire Foy at Unsane Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street
However, once the truth becomes clear, Unsane loses much of his energy as he tries to solve a more familiar and conventional scenario that is sometimes clumsily told. Sawyer goes through an important character change that is so abrupt, it is not entirely convincing. Foy offers an intense and intimidating performance, but it is often difficult to relate to her, given the extreme of her choices. The script, without a doubt, presents it as damaged and dysfunctional, for reasons that are not his fault, he is dealing with extreme trauma as best he can. The decision to make it unpleasant and, at times, frightening is daring, given the constant pressure to make female characters accessible and enjoyable. His flaws and weaknesses are an important part of the story, and one of his most surprising and exciting ideas.
But history demands that it be ruthless with the use of other people for its own purposes, usually with unpleasant and depressing consequences. In particular, she ruthlessly takes advantage of Nate (Jay Pharoah, of Saturday Night Live), the only calm and understanding companion who tries to relate to her. Sometimes, only the extreme injustice of her situation keeps her captivating, that and the outrageous behavior of the movie antagonist.
Claire Foy and Jay Pharoah in Unsane Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street
Considering all the grotesque and grotesque emotions that are exhibited in Unsane, it is perhaps entirely appropriate that the film itself seems so dirty. The murky images on the screen are compatible with what Sawyer is feeling, since he was told that he can not trust his own perceptions or memories, and that everything he trusts to help her gradually fails him. The scattering of the outdoor scenes in the film brings realistic color and depth to the story, and they speak better for the iPhone camera than the shots inside.
But it is more difficult to excuse the soft and fuzzy qualities of the footage, the way in which well-lit scenes really seem to be fully focused, and the feeling that the visual details and depth are lost in each interior shot. For the most part, Unsane feels like one of the many early experiments in a technology that is still being developed, and has not caught up with professional-level film cameras. It is still more a limited novelty than a cinematographic revolution.