I’ve been hearing a lot from critics about Steven Soderbergh lately. You know Steven Soderbergh even if you don’t know that you know Steven Soderbergh. He directed the Ocean’s 11 movies, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky (just to name a few).
He has a movie that just released on Netflix called High Flying Bird. My friends at The Ringer.com were talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing it because they consider Soderbergh a modern-day genius. They said that though Unsane went largely unnoticed, High Flying Bird owes much to Unsane. I generally trust the Ringer folks, so I decided I clearly haven’t appreciated Soderbergh enough. I made the decision to soon watch High Flying Bird, but I figured I’d better watch Unsane first in order to fully experience the director’s repertoire.
I didn’t hear anything about Unsane when it released back in March of 2018, but it’s got Claire Foy in it, so it has to be good, right? I mean, Claire Foy is pretty much incredible in The Crown. Plus, I liked the movies that I’ve seen in the above list. Therefore, I like Soderbergh … right?
I decided to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes before I watched Unsane. Let’s just say reviews are … mixed. The critics generally like it. The audience rates it slightly below a D-. The critics were fixated on calling it Soderbergh’s “B movie” masterpiece. Is that even possible? The audience was really obsessed with the fact that it was shot on an iPhone. Um … okay?
As for my opinion?
Don’t waste your time on this one.
Okay, that’s a little harsh.
Let’s go positive first.
Foy continues to impress me. I think she’s got incredible range. She is a bit of an unlikable character in this movie. Her body language is purposefully rigid. She’s also surly, terse, and angry. However, she has good reason to be. Or does she?
I was led to believe that this would be something of a psychological thriller.
Sorry. It’s not.
They make the truth of the situation pretty clear early on in the film.
Let me explain.
Foy’s character unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution for short term observation. According to one of the patients played by Jay Pharoah, it’s a scam by the institution to skim money from the insurance companies. He tells her she can expect to be released in a few days once they’ve gotten their payment.
I found this entire premise really interesting, but don’t get excited … that’s not what the movie is about.
The movie then makes you think it is about whether or not Sawyer, Foy’s character, is actually being hunted and harassed by a stalker or if it’s all in her head. Again, this is a really interesting concept. We want to instantly side with Sawyer because she seems to be a victim. However, due to her somewhat volatile nature, it’s hard to pin down her mental state. But, yet again … that’s not really want this movie is about.
Spoilers ahead …
Unsane quickly confirms that yes, Sawyer’s stalker is now working in the institution; yes, he’s totally messing with her; and no , she’s not suffering any mental issues. The stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, goes on a killing spree in order to kidnap her from the institution, and that’s when the “B movie” genre goes into full effect.
We are led to believe that Jay Pharoah’s character is an addict in recovery, but, once he’s killed by the stalker for being Sawyer’s friend, it’s briefly revealed that he was actually a reporter under deep cover and investigating the institution’s insurance fraud practices. Wow. That alone actually would have been a GREAT movie.
Sawyer loses everyone close to her, eventually gets the upper hand on the stalker, and kills him with a shiv. Yes, you read that right.
I don’t know why the movie chose the path it did when it initially set up some really interesting ideas. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m failing to see a certain craft or art to the film that others have picked up on. A lot of people seem to think it’s cool that it was shot on an iPhone, but to me … it looks like it was shot on an iPhone.
For what it’s worth, Foy gives a potent performance. This is only the second thing I’ve seen her do outside of The Crown–I’ve never seen her quite like this. If she did Unsane to show her ability to play against type, she made a wise decision. This is about as far from Queen Elizabeth as one can get.
Do you need to watch Unsane to get a stylistic flavor in order to enjoy High Flying Bird? I’m going to say “no.” Should you even watch Unsane at all? While I enjoyed Claire Foy, I find Unsane largely dispensable. You’ll perhaps like it, but I wish I’d spent my time watching something else.
(Did you enjoy this article? Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)