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Gaslight Alley: A Review Of Unsane

To ‘gaslight’ someone is to manipulate him or her psychologically so that said person begins to question his or her own sanity, memory, or perception. As psychological thrillers go, Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Unsane, makes one strong statement that goes way beyond the gimmickry of Soderbergh having shot the whole film on an iPhone. If anything, the methodology of shooting exclusively with the iPhone adds to the immersive, claustrophobic tone of the film; like we are one with the stalking or paranoia (take your pick), that plays such an integral part in the film’s storyline.



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Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a high strung, and strung out, businesswoman who’s relocating to Philadelphia to get away from a past that includes a stalker, the creepy David—whose disembodied voice is used for the disturbing opening sequence. She signs up for therapy sessions at a local centre and what follows is a perilous journey through the health care system. The gaslighting that occurs is only one aspect of what befalls Sawyer. Along the way, we’re asking ourselves whether Sawyer is victim or has real mental issues of her own, is the system toying with her or showing real concern, and is David lurking around the corner? Fanciful paranoia or legitimate fear? These are just some of the ‘bones’ thrown in our path as we traverse down this pulp thriller of a film.

For someone who officially retired from filmmaking in 2016, Soderbergh has been a relatively busy man in terms of film output. After the delightful but relatively unwatched Logan Lucky (the anti-high gloss heist caper to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 series); here comes Unsane, a film that comes straight out of left field. If I search for a film in his canon that bears some relation to Unsane, it would be his Side Effects. But this one works with an immersive immediacy that’s unflinching.

It’s also great to see Claire Foy stretching beyond her Crown TV series. Here, she’s haggard, defiant, and pushed beyond the limits of reason, time and time again. More than just about issues of sanity, the film also looks at the psychology of sexual harassment and stalking.


photos from @unsanemovie