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Film Review: Unsane

Director:   Steven Soderbergh

Cast:   Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Jay Pharoah, Sarah Stiles, Colin Woodell, Zach Cherry, Mike Mihm

Rating:   M

Running Time:   97

Australian Distributor:   20th Century Fox


Steven Soderbergh’s “Unsane” introduces us to Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a young woman who has moved from Boston to Pennsylvania. She’s settling in, but not comfortably. Sawyer has a jumpy energy and a whiff of toxicity. She brings home a man one night, comes on strong, then reels away from him as if punched.

After seeing a therapist to complain of anxiety, Sawyer signs a few routine-looking papers. Then, as nurses and orderlys calmly close in on her, she realises that she has committed herself to Highland Creek, a psychiatric ward.

That’s only the beginning of “Unsane,” which proceeds, in 98 fast-paced minutes, to pull Sawyer through a labyrinthine nightmare — and us along with her. It’s a terrific thriller with a finely calibrated performance from Foy, shedding her kid-gloved role as Queen Elizabeth on Neflix’s “The Crown” to play a damaged, prickly, ferocious American. She’s joined by a couple of other fresh faces: Jay Pharoah, of “Saturday Night Live,” as a man kicking an opioid addiction and a very good Joshua Leonard (best known for “The Blair Witch Project”) as a Highland Creek orderly. The less you know about the story, though, the better. Much of it relies on our distrust of Sawyer and then, once we know where we stand, “Unsane” takes on the feverish, desperate feel of a rat clawing at its cage.

You would think that this is Soderbergh’s first feature film. It has energy, imagination and a sense of experimentation, as if he was still fascinated by this thing called a camera. He shot “Unsane” on three iPhone 7s, and the resulting look is perfect for the film: jittery, prickly, a little raw, much like Sawyer herself. With a low-budget feel that gives the film an added sense of grit, “Unsane” qualifies as a minor masterpiece.

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