Like a thumb pressed down viciously on an eye until it bursts, this nail bitingly tense psychological horror directed by Steven Soderbergh and shot entirely on an iPhone doesn’t let up until its final throes. Even then it is horrifying. A sinuous script written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer follows a young woman named Sawyer (Claire Foy) through her time spent in a mental institution. Sawyer believes she has been tricked into committing herself after a discussion with a kindly therapist.
Foy is utterly captivating as a woman who has suffered through an awful ordeal at the hands of a male stalker. Her decision to relocate 450 miles away from her family and start a new life in a competitive work place racks her with worry so she decides to seek help. At one point she says, “I’m alone in a big city and I never feel safe, not for one minute.” A statement that rings true for every woman, but the viewer is left to decide whether Sawyer is suffering from the delusion that her stalker will find her or anxiety at the state of the world.
Stripped of her freedom, Sawyer is thrust into the suffocating Highland Creek hospital where she meets a handful of patients including Nate (a superb Jay Pharoah) who comes to her aid. He believes her story and the two form an alliance. Amy Irving too, makes a lasting impression as Sawyer’s mother who we first meet disappearing into the blue and white print of her kitchen wallpaper.
Unsane traverses the corridors of corrupt policies and paperwork that threaten to cut up and disembowel democracy. The hellish blue palette seems inescapable to Sawyer, as she shouts her truth and outrage at the top of her lungs only to be dismissed. It rallies against the US government through its exposure of unfair capitalist gain and conformity and is perfectly designed to get under your skin making you feel increasing frustration and cruel injustice through its characters. The press is tortured and silenced, the vulnerable are manipulated and their claustrophobic reality is a frightening and familiar place.