Steven Soderbergh's latest Unsane features a commanding performance from actress Claire Foy. While a solid entry in the "are they or aren't they insane?" thriller sub-genre, the film may most be remembered as the movie Soderbergh shot on an iPhone 7. The film is solid entertainment, but it doesn't do much original or exciting with its plot and instead works as a testimonial to how far modern technology has advanced. Still well worth watching, it's a well-made flick with a lot of inventive camera work but doesn't demand too much from it. Universal Studios brings Unsane to Blu-ray with an impressive A/V presentation. Sadly bonus features are virtually nonexistent. Overall the movie is a good time so do give it a spin. Recommended.
We also reviewed this movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
"People leave Highland Creek healthier than when they come in."
For a guy who keeps saying he may retire, Steven Soderbergh keeps making a lot of movies. Ever the visual and technological experimenter, he brings all of his best talents and his iPhone to Unsane. Featuring a stellar turn from Claire Foy, Unsane doesn't exactly mix anything new into the stew of the "are they or aren't they insane?" sub-genre, but it manages to hold its own. It's Soderbergh's inventive use of a camera phone to capture the film that commands attention as the small device allows shots from virtually every conceivable angle giving a simplistic storyline a visual punch of dread and suspense.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) should be living the life of her dreams. Young, attractive, and successful - she commands the attention of the men around her while enjoying praise at work and advancing quickly. However, her life is anything but perfect. A victim of a stalker; after two years she hasn't been able to regain a normal life after leaving her home of Boston behind, exiting social media, and cutting off ties to old friends and family. When she makes an appointment with Highland Creek for counseling to help her get over her fears, she unwittingly involuntarily commits herself. Her situation becomes a nightmare when an orderly who looks exactly like her stalker (Joshua Leonard) starts dispensing her medication. Is Sawyer being scammed? Or is she actually insane?
Movies in the "are they or aren't they insane?" sub-genre -- including recent productions like A Cure for Wellness, FX's Legion, and even Hereditary to an extent -- all play around with ideas of mental illness and unreliable narrators, offering up some interesting opportunities to expand the Thriller genre. To the credit of Unsane, Soderbergh and company have crafted a tight and suspenseful little yarn. If there's a lesson to be learned from a film like this is to make sure you read over every line of any document you sign. That said, Unsane doesn't really do a whole lot new or exciting with the material. Where there may be some brief suspicion or doubt about what's going on, but by the 40-minute mark, the particulars are plainly clear and the path the story travels isn't all that new or exciting.
What Unsane does have going for it is Soderbergh's need to play and experiment. This time, he's decided to just shoot the whole movie on his iPhone 7. What initially seems like a stunt actually proves to be pretty effective and inventive. With a small camera like that, Soderbergh exploits the device's mobility and the ability to put the thing nearly anywhere he wants with some impressive results. While not appearing like professional grade camera equipment, a clean image is captured that actually helps boost a sense of paranoia and suspense that Sawyer could be viewed by anyone anywhere maintaining a constant sense of dread. With some purposeful and stylized processing in post-production, the image ends up looking like hyper-sensitive 16mm reversal color stock giving the image a bit of grit and an uncomfortable punch as that camera can get very close to people's faces.
Taken as a whole, I wasn't completely blown away by the movie. Soderbergh has obviously made better movies in the past, but Unsane is solid material. Certainly better than Contagion, I would put it about on par with Side Effects as a strong, entertaining flick that doesn't quite live up to potential. As much as the film is impressive visually, Foy is the real stand out here. Coupled with a creepy turn from Joshua Leonard, she delivers a hell of a performance. The flick is a good time despite some plot shortcomings.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Unsane arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in a standard two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for other upcoming Universal releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. The digital copy can be redeemed through Movies Anywhere.
Reportedly shot entirely on an Apple iPhone 7 using a Moments Lens and finished on a 4K digital intermediate, Unsane features a unique and distinctive 1080p 1.56:1 image. If there is a comparable image experience I would turn an eye toward any of the more recent "found footage" sort of films as this image displays a variety of similarities. Details can fluctuate from one shot setup to the next. Colors, depending on the intention of the moment, can vary in saturation ever so slightly. The image also appears to have been given a bit of a "digital grain" effect in post-production to give it a little bit of grit and noise - especially in later scenes where the image is literally blue and black. This is where grading the image score for this release gets a little foggy. It's not something easily comparable to other modern digitally shot and processed films. It's strictly shot by filmmaker intent and as the film progresses, the processed image coloring, lighting, and contrast accentuate the moment. So on that front, it's a wild success. I enjoy how Soderbergh gets a bee buzzing in his head to try things just for the sake of doing them. Sure, he didn't need to shot this film on a camera phone, but in doing so he's created a unique visual tone for the film that elevates the by the numbers plot.
Unsane sparks with a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The dialog is clean and clear throughout with only a few instances where words could have a tinny hollow quality to them - that may have been due to the setting. This anomaly is in the last act and takes place in a confined location (I don't want to say more due to potential spoilers). Sound effects have a natural quality to them with a subdued presence. The mix feels largely front/center focused, but small movements of the patients in the dining hall or in the bedrooms keep the mix alive. Little effects like medications falling into the paper serving cups have an uncomfortable little punch to them that kicks up the ominous tone of the film. Scoring by Thomas Newman is simple and subdued but hits notes when and where important without becoming too intrusive. Levels are spot on. Once you have them at a nice even level don't adjust them. Some soft dialogue from side characters is intentionally out of range so don't feel the need to adjust things.
The bonus features package is so underwhelming and nonexistent that I almost wish they didn't include anything at all. The single, lowly featurette is so brief and informal that it hardly counts. Maybe a better special edition package is intended down the line?
Unsanity (HD 4:26) This is a typical talking-heads EPK bonus feature that says little and does even less.
Unsane is an inventive thriller that unfortunately follows a pretty pedestrian path. In the sub-genre of "sanity vs insanity," Unsane doesn't shake things up - but how the film is told makes it interesting and unique. Claire Foy delivers a hell of a performance and commands every scene while Steven Soderbergh keeps the show together using inventive visual techniques afforded by the freedoms of an iPhone 7 that lends a terrific sense of paranoia and dread to the predictability of the plot. Universal Studios brings Unsane to Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation. Unfortunately extras so so light they barely count at all. I dug this movie as it proved to be a good way to spend 90-minutes of an evening. Recommended.