If you only know Claire Foy from her regal performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown,” seeing her in Steven Soderbergh’s thriller “Unsane” is . . . well, it’s unnerving, just like the movie. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
If you, like me, only know Claire Foy from her regal performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown,” seeing her in Steven Soderbergh’s thriller “Unsane” is . . . well, it’s unnerving, just like the movie. That patrician Britspeak is gone, replaced with a slightly tinny, perfectly American accent; her posture is a little slouchy and her manner casual, yet you see an underlying tension from the opening scenes. This is a woman who’s terrified of falling apart; something in her past has profoundly shaken her, and left her a jittery, never-quite-settled version of herself.
Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who’s recently started a new life in a new city after a lengthy period of dealing with a terrifying stalker. We learn this early on: Sawyer thinks that she sees her stalker, a bearded man (Joshua Leonard) wearing aviator glasses, everywhere. After freaking out on a date, she goes to a therapy appointment and doesn’t read the forms she signs. Just like that, things go all “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Sawyer, involuntarily committed to a nightmarish inpatient psychiatric facility, is convinced that the aviator-glasses man is one of the staffers there, having followed her. Did he, or is this, in Sawyer’s words, “my neuroses colluding with my imagination to manifest my worst fears”?
As always, Soderbergh both shot and edited the film himself (under his usual pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, respectively), and it’s visually striking. The cinematography, done with an iPhone 7 equipped with special lenses, has a claustrophobic, slightly misty feel that melds perfectly with the film’s themes. At times the camera seems to be warping reality; folding in on itself, weirdly vibrating, showing us things that may or may not be there. “Unsane” has an uncanny way of reflecting the world through Sawyer’s eyes, sometimes amplified by the medication she’s forced to take. It’s not a pretty place.
Like many thrillers, “Unsane” fades a bit in the final stretch, once its central did-he-or-didn’t-he question is resolved. (As is so often the case, the answer is less compelling than pondering the question.) But it never ceases to make us deeply uncomfortable; you watch wanting to leave, yet glued to your seat. And it makes you look at Foy with new eyes. “Now he’s here, or maybe it’s all in my head,” she tells someone desperately; either way, her head is a fascinating place to dwell.
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★★★ ”Unsane,” with Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, from a screenplay by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer. 98 minutes. Rated R for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references. Several theaters.