Film: Unsane

Steven Soderbergh is always worth checking out, and while Unsane (2018) isn’t his most accomplished outing, it’s a classy, absorbing suspense film in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock. Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is an attractive young woman who has just moved to a new city to start over. Lingering emotional trauma from a stalking in her previous life eventually inspires her to seek help from a therapist at a behavioral health center. But when she doesn’t read the fine print on the paperwork she signs, she finds herself committed to a psychiatric wing as a “danger to herself and others.” Sawyer is completely normal, but her involuntary detention leads to conflict with both unsympathetic staff and a mixed bag of patients, all of whom trigger legitimate psychological issues. These issues only worsen when she sees that her former stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard), is working as an orderly at the center. But is he really there, or is she actually losing her mind?

With its modest scale and simple construction, Unsane isn’t a particularly flashy piece of work, but it’s an effectively chilling mystery that escalates from paranoid slow-build to suspenseful action. Foy’s sympathetic lead performance sells the dilemma powerfully, and Leonard essays his creepy, abusive presence nicely. Jay Pharoah and Juno Temple provide nice support as well, portraying noteworthy patients in Sawyer’s ward. As is often the case in this type of film, the questions are more interesting than the answers, and the the final act feels a smidge chaotic and disorganized. But overall, it’s a nicely engineered suspense flick that gives its key performers an opportunity to shine.

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