(Release Info London schedule; March 21st, 2018, Cineworld Fulton Road, 20:15)
A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she's confronted by her greatest fear, but is it real or is it a product of her delusion?
Making a startling trip into thriller territory with "Unsane", director Steven Soderbergh plunges audiences into the suspense and drama of Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a resilient woman, fights to reclaim her freedom even as she risks her own sanity. Scarred from the trauma of being stalked, quick-witted Sawyer has relocated from Boston to Pennsylvania for a new life. As her mother Angela (Amy Irving) misses her back home and her office job is hardly an ideal employment opportunity, Sawyer remains on edge following her two years of being terrorized. To consult with a therapist, she goes for follow-up treatment at 'The Highland Creek Behavioral Center'. Sawyer’s initial therapy session at the suburban complex run by clinician Ashley Brighterhouse (Aimée Mullins) progresses well, until she unwittingly signs herself in for voluntary 24-hour commitment. Unable to leave the premises, Sawyer finds herself in close quarters with previously committed hellion Violet (Juno Temple) and savvy Nate (Jay Pharoah), who's battling an opioid addiction. Sawyer expects to be out of 'Highland Creek' within hours. But once she catches sight of facility staffer George Shaw, she's terrified and then enraged, because she's convinced that Shaw’s real name is David Strine (Joshua Leonard) and that he's her stalker. But is it real or is it a product of her delusion? As none of the doctors and nurses believe she's in danger, and all question her sanity, Sawyer’s stay at 'Highland Creek' is extended indefinitely. Sawyer realizes that in order to survive she will have to battle her demons and fight her way out.
We meet Sawyer after she’s been through a traumatic experience; we’re starting our journey with her as she’s trying to restart her own life. Sawyer is a resilient person. She's strong physically, and is very clever. But she’s sort of an unfinished person, which is a weakness and a strength. Sawyer goes there trying to stabilize her life. But once a therapist uses legal authority to check her in for the one-week observational stay, Sawyer’s raging against the machine that's holding her against her will gives them enough bad behavior proof to justify their treatment of her. The character of Sawyer is very much expressive, emotive and wild. Some parts of the screenplay trod the line of being funny and hideous at the same time. "Unsane" is a cautionary tale, for all sorts of reasons. The element of mental health, and how we take care of people or don’t take care of people, in 'The Western World'. As we’ve seen in the world recently with women coming forward to tell their stories, Sawyer has to face people discounting her believability. We look at what that would do to one’s self-confidence, when no one around you believes you.
The film depicts extreme acts, but also explores what it’s like to now have trust issues. The scene becomes one of the scariest in "Unsane", because it’s about how there's no going back once someone has invaded your life; Sawyer knows she's now subject to this possibility. That’s key to understanding Sawyer’s responses in the timeline of the story that follows. But, unless they’ve been through it nobody can ever understand what that does to you psychologically. That's demoralizing and terrifying. When Sawyer finds herself held at 'Highland Creek', Violet has already been confined there for a while. Violet welcomes her by trying to be the boss. Violet is a young woman who's unstable and needs care and help. She’s from West Virginia, and is white trash. She's very repressed back home and deeply wants to be loved by people. But whenever she has reached out, it has turned into her having to fight for survival; Violet has to fend for herself through violence, although she’s more of a danger to herself than to others around her.
David has come to where he's when we meet him in "Unsane", a pretty dangerous place of obsessiveness, through very human experiences that he’s taken in differently than other people would. He's not a horror-movie villain. It’s all the more disturbing that there’s this bland guy and then you find out what he really is. Sawyer is coming out of a very traumatic past to start her life anew. He fixates on the notion that they should be together, that she’s the primary component which has been missing from his life. David has something missing in himself, but rather than try to fix himself from the inside out he becomes convinced that Sawyer is the solution. So her trauma follows her across state lines. While this can leave her vulnerable, by the end of the movie she's on her way to who she really is.
Ashley Brighterhouse, is climbing the corporate ladder. She runs 'Highland Creek' with an iron fist in a velvet glove, and she believes that people really do leave her institution better off than when they came in. She feels completely justified in her choices. She's driving herself forward in type-A ways that perhaps don’t consider the repercussions of some of her business strategies. Angela is a mom that everyone would like to have if they're facing this; she drops everything when she hears that her child is in peril, and will do whatever she has to do. When Angela gets that phone call, it’s almost like she can’t take in what’s being said, hearing about the oppressive situation that her daughter is in; she just jumps in a car and goes to help.
Is she or isn’t she? That's the question bedeviling the heroine of director Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller "Unsane", which will provide audiences with chilling moments. Viewers will find the experience doubly disturbing, since the movie’s contemporary setting and concerns render it, as a genre story rooted in the real world, and in something that’s possible; the chances of this happening to you're quite plausible. Having a female protagonist makes any story more dramatic; they've obstacles to overcome that men don’t always have to deal with. With a male lead, the stakes in the movie would not be as high and the level of vulnerability would be lower. In the culture that we occupy, the weight given to something a woman says is different than that given to something a man says, which plays into the central idea of "Unsane". And so Sawyer Valentini, facing her fears, clings desperately but firmly to her belief that she's sane even as she's being told otherwise.
This film is placed in an interesting context of what's going on now in the health care industry. It's about a woman who's involuntarily committed into a mental institution, based on an actual account, and is locked up with her own stalker. Sawyer is a woman in a desperate situation and at critical points, she sees an opening that she can exploit. She acts the way she does not out of a moral choice but because if she does not act she will be killed. There are many shocking moments, noting that anyone seeing the movie should expect the unexpected. The story plays around frighteningly with the nature of perception, with how different the filter that we all see our lives through can be, given one’s past history and immediate circumstances.
Sawyer has a history of mental health issues, and is candid with a health care professional, which triggers activity for a system that profits in the short term from having people enter it on the terms it’s set up. The question is, does this approach benefit people who need help or does it benefit large health care companies? They make money off of what are, in a way, incarcerations. Maybe 'Highland Creek' is working for other people, but it doesn’t work for Sawyer. The key turn here comes with a boilerplate patient document that Sawyer doesn’t bother to read all of, as most of us wouldn’t, but there's a sentence in it that ultimately comes as a surprise to her, and her reaction to that guarantees she will be sucked into a vortex. As she talks more, the hole just gets bigger and bigger.
"Unsane" is about being trapped in a situation where nobody will believe the truth, which heightens the feeling of captivity. The scenario of not being heard and not being listened to? There have been so many examples of this in the current climate, and what Sawyer goes through is one of anyone’s worst nightmares. In today’s society, people have their phones out all the time, filming everything; everyone can be a 'Peeping Tom'. Sawyer has been watched in a way that’s not at all romantic, loving, or kind. “As the story unfolds, we see how the system is failing Sawyer because she being held against her own will with someone she knows is a danger to her and to others. The powers of authority are very quick to call her crazy, and that’s also about money; it’s a bureaucracy and not a conspiracy, but it’s an abuse of power. It’s old-school genre about something modern.