For his second feature post “retirement”, Steven Soderbergh returns to territory he explored in 2013’s Side Effects, albeit this time armed with an iPhone.

That’s right, Unsane was shot with a smartphone and the low-fi, seedy grindhouse look works to the advantage of this often disturbing psych ward thriller. It’s just a shame the screenplay isn’t as novel.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, a long way from the regal poise of The Crown) has relocated to Pennsylvania from Boston to escape a stalker, who she’s convinced has followed her. After freaking out during a Tinder date, she attempts to enrol in a victim support group and is instead promptly institutionalised after admitting to suicidal thoughts.

Insisting she isn’t crazy doesn’t convince the hospital staff – especially after she lashes out violently at the nurses and inmates – and even her lawyered-up mother (Amy Irving) can’t break her out of the suspect facility. Then her worst nightmare becomes real when she recognises one of the orderlies as her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard). Has he contrived to have her committed, or is the whole experience one big paranoid delusion?

What begins as a psychological thriller with undertones of a conspiracy involving health insurance scams soon turns into a psycho horror flick. It’s a threesome that fails to successfully gel. Some of the plot devices feel far too convenient and don’t make a lot of sense, and since it’s unclear whether what we’re watching is actually happening or all inside Sawyer’s head, the overall effect is waiting for an explanatory twist that may never arrive.

On the plus side, Foy is great in the kind of role you can imagine Clea DuVall playing; her haunted and manic performance heightened by the grungy Apple camerawork.

Unsane doesn’t set out to make any statements about mental illness, although it does offer some cautionary advice about social media and stalkers (from a cameoing Matt Damon, no less). It’s a B-movie made by an A-grade director and as an experiment in iPhone filmmaking, it works. As a satisfying thriller, it doesn’t.

star-3In cinemas: April 25, 2018
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh