Friday, 23 March 2018

Unsane (2018)

There was a time when people thought Steven Soderbergh was a defining film making voice. Is he trying to prove them wrong lately? Logan Lucky, Side Effects, Haywire, Contagion, The Informant!, I could go on and on. How many of these films were ever really entertaining? Certainly none of them memorable. Honestly how many of them do you remember? I have always felt he was overrated. His big films; Sex, Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight, Magic Mike; are fine but all overrated in my opinion. Even the one to punch of Erin Brockovich and Traffic were not high on my list. Sure he's not to my taste, but looking back at his resume I would challenge folks to be honest about how many of these films hold up after all.

And now he is back as his un-retirement continues with a film which almost got me, but left me feeling so frustrated. Like his experiment Bubble (which popped btw) Unsane has a gimmick. It was all shot on an iphone. Well this has been done and done much better (Tangerine) so it's not really a revolution. And even if it was it would need a story that made it a worthwhile experiment. Unsane didn't have that story for me.

I kept waiting for Unsane to be something more than just a run of the mill standard thriller. Woman gets locked up against her will in an institution and she begins to question what's real and what's not. Except we never do. The film is so straightforward, spoon-feeding us all the way along there is a never a question of what is real and what is not. The film ends up being just another woman-in-peril for our entertainment stories which hits each expected beat. Boring. Soderbergh just strings one thriller cliche after another (why does the heroine keep running into the danger instead of away from it as in every cliched thriller?) and it all feels so much like we've seen it before.

But here is what makes it so damn frustrating. The idea of gaslighting is a fascinating one, one that really could have been explored with this plot, with this fact pattern. I wanted to see a film which played with the way one's perceptions can be manipulated, the ways we can question our own credibility. But the film never even tries to get into any of that. Going back to my question, perhaps the film could have found a way to explore why she kept making things worse for herself, how the forces manipulating her were creating an untenable situation. But it doesn't. It abandons her to a tired plot that doesn't know how to finish in a way that is interesting. As it reaches its paint by numbers climax we are given no real sense of the pain of her journey. It just wraps up all quite conveniently, far too conveniently.

And it ends with a truly cheap maneuver, which undercuts her survival entirely, a survival we never get to feel authentically. Never did I feel this was Sawyer's story. It felt like she was a prop for us to enjoy.

Yes, I know I am simply not a fan of Soderbergh's work and perhaps there are those who do but I don't get it. I would love to understand why he gets the credit he does for making what are often so typically uninteresting films.

Starring: Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Amy Irving
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer

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