Steven Soderbergh has always been something of a film making pioneer. In 1989, he proved Indie films could be profitable with his Sundance hit, Sex, Lies and Videotape.
Soderbergh ushered in the start of the HD digital revolution, when his two part film Che was one of the first movies shot with the Red camera.
In 2005, Bubble burst onto the scene by being the first movie to be released day and date, meaning it was made available in theaters, cable and DVD at the same time. Soderbergh’s latest movie, Unsane, is no different.
Steven Soderbergh shot this movie entirely on his iPhone 7 Plus. This of course has been done before, Sean Baker’s Tangerine was the first iPhone movie a earn a lot of attention.
In Unsane Claire Foy (The Crown, Season Of The Witch) stars as Sawyer, a woman with mental troubles who is unwittingly checked into a mental institution and forced to confront a source of trauma from her past.
What sets Unsane apart from the pack is the high profile cast and crew behind it. The cast of Unsane includes Juno Temple (Away, Black Mass), Joshua Leonard (Startup (TV), Bates Motel (TV)) and even Matt Damon (Suburbicon, Downsizing) makes a fun appearance as a Police Officer.
Leave it to Soderbergh to convince Matt Damon to be in an iPhone movie. I can only imagine how that phone call went, “Matty, how are things? Oh, you’re about to board your G6…. so I’m shooting a small movie next year and wondered if you could work for a day? The camera….. actually I’m talking on it now.”
It is also worth noting that Unsane is the first iPhone movie to get such a wide release. It hit over 2,000 screens and made almost 4 Million on its opening weekend.
The story is surprisingly well written. This psychological thriller takes place almost entirely in this mental facility. The acting is bold and engaging. It does help that the things explored in this movie are dark….. I mean, this is the dark side of the moon variety.
The screenplay was written by Jonathan Bernstein (The Spy Next Door, Just My Luck) and James Greer (The Spy Next Door, Just My Luck), the same twisted minds who brought us Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.
Claire Foy gave a passionate performance as this complex character. Early on we see that Sawyer is a successful woman with a good job, yet she has this hidden side while she is off the clock.
She has a different persona that is dangerous and manic, think Carol from Repulsion. Sawyer skates the line between being a character we sympathize with for being wronged by the mental health care system and as a woman that, at times, makes us feel she should stay there and get help.
The irony is the horrific situation this facility puts her in is what makes the staff feel she is Unsane and prompts them to keep her there.
From a visual standpoint, Unsane could have been better. The 1.56 : 1 aspect ratio was unappealing, especially on a large movie screen.
Soderbergh could have used the same Moondog Labs lens adapter that gave Tangerine that wide screen look that people were raving about. My guess is Soderbergh felt that might have been a cheat. He has often gone for substance over style, such as when he shot his feature Full Frontal on a consumer level digital camera.
This movie did have some strong visual moments, artistic flourishes you could say. The look of Unsane did not take me out of the story however, since it was full of suspense and sounded great. The last 20 minutes of this movie will surprise you and make you glad this was a pill you chose to swallow.
My final feelings are that Unsane does a perfect job at proving all a film truly needs in the end, a great story and competent actors and crew to tell it. For that I am glad Soderbergh made his little iPhone movie without reservation.
I have written an article on why I think filmmakers should not shoot a feature on a cell phone, I still feel it should be avoided. Emerging artists do not have the reputation Soderbergh had going into this and it is safe to say Matt Damon will not be in Joe six pack’s iPhone movie.
What Unsane might do however, is encourage new filmmakers to put aside their hang ups and make a movie any way they can. With that freedom, that artistic license, we will see more fresh and unique stories like Unsane make their way to the screens, big or small.
Curt Wiser is the Writer, Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. As a filmmaker and artist he is committed to passing on kind words about other movies and sharing them with the world.