Arts movie review

‘Unsane’ captures the internal struggles we all face

This thriller defies the odds by having a relatable plot

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer
Starring Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard
Rated R
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I first heard of Unsane while I was on YouTube; I was taking pset break by watching some videos when the trailer popped up. My first instinct was to press the “Skip Ad” button, but as the summary unfolded, I couldn’t help but finish watching. The protagonist’s involuntary commitment to an insane asylum, to me, made for an intriguing twist on the traditional horror genre. I could envision the film taking many possible paths, so I was curious to see as to how the plot would be executed.

Right from the start, I could see a drab filter placed on, as well as a really grainy definition, making for some really depressing visuals that last for the entire screening time. Although not exactly horrifying, the lack of visual appeal gave me some anxiety, which I think was intentional. In this environment, we first find protagonist Sawyer Valentini at work in a plain office building. Although her harsh and sarcastic attitude towards her colleagues makes it hard to sympathize with her at first, I soon come to understand why. She explains to herself (that is, to the audience) that her stalker’s incessant harassment forced her to leave Boston and move to a random Pennsylvania town to start her life all over. And life in Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to be going so well; I could tell from the lack of ambient sound and the awkward camera angles that displayed her conversation with her creepy boss that she felt out of place.

Once she decides to get help for her anxiety, it’s clear that things are not getting better. The camera angles and quietness in her conversation with her therapist again give an unwelcoming feeling accompanied by an ominous touch as the session ends with forms to sign. After this comes one of the scenes I saw in the trailer, where Sawyer is unexpectedly committed to the mental institution. This, I thought, is the most unrealistic part of the film, since Sawyer had read the forms.

Her stay at the mental institution is a part of the film I found quite enjoyable, for it delivers suspense in a manner much different from most other horror films. During this time, she fights frequently with the patients and the staff display, and she acts with the same snarky attitude she had at the beginning of the film. The protagonist’s resistance to falling into a static state of shock is admirable. We see this even as she confronts her stalker once and for all (posing as a hardworking nurse, interestingly), telling him how she feels without any fear for her life.

Overall, I thought the deviations from the genre made the film more pleasant to watch. The interjection of humor added value to a plot that, if taken too seriously, would have appeared silly — a fatal flaw of many horror films. Due to Sawyer’s strong personality, I saw myself rooting for her instead of feeling frustrated whenever any obstacles got in her way. Because of all of these factors, I felt as if I was learning a lesson: we only truly have ourselves to rely upon when life gets hard. It sounds silly, sure, but I thought it was interesting that I would take away this message from something called Unsane in the first place.