Arts

No way out for Claire Foy in Steven Soderberg's thriller Unsane

An emotional young woman (Claire Foy) is held against her will in a mental health facility in Steven Soderbergh's lean thriller Unsane

Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini in Steven Soderberg's Unsane
Damon Smith

Unsane (15, 98 mins) Thriller/Romance.

Starring: Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Polly McKie, Juno Temple.

Director: Steven Soderbergh.

Rating: 3 stars

SEEING is deceiving in Steven Soderbergh's hallucinogenic mind trip for a traumatised data analyst, who sees the menacing face of a stalker everywhere she turns.

Scripted by Johan Bernstein and James Greer, Unsane is shot entirely on a smartphone and generates sparks of claustrophobia from the restricted screen framing and occasional blurring of images as characters race around dimly lit corridors.

Visuals are intentionally murky, reflecting the gloom that descends upon the stricken heroine as she is separated from people she loves and the security of her home environment.

In his capacity as director and editor, Soderbergh loosens his usually firm grasp on the film's quickening pulse as boundaries between reality and nightmarish imagination blur with violent consequences.

Shaky handheld camerawork has a verite, improvised quality akin to a fly-on-the-wall documentary rather than a studio-financed psychological thriller.

Stockport-born actress Claire Foy convincingly casts off the pomp and ceremony of her award-winning role in The Crown to play Sawyer Valentini, who has moved from Boston to Pennsylvania to escape the barrage of text messages of a mentally unstable admirer called David Strine (Joshua Leonard).

Human interaction is limited to clipped conversations with work colleagues, anonymous hook-ups in bars and reassuring telephone calls to her concerned mother (Amy Irving).

Always looking over her shoulder, Sawyer searches online for support groups for victims of stalking.

She is directed to Highland Creek Behavioural Centre, where trained staff will apparently diagnose the best course of action.

"I'm alone in a strange city and I never feel safe," she sombrely confides to one counsellor.

Filling in a series of forms to complete her treatment, Sawyer is shepherded into the depths of the facility, where she discovers that her hastily scrawled signature has condemned her to a living nightmare.

"By signing this, you've consented to voluntary commitment," tersely explains nurse Boles (Polly McKie).

Sawyer is forcibly relocated to a dormitory with other patients including nice guy Nate (Jay Pharoah) and live wire Violet (Juno Temple).

As she queues for medication, Sawyer is horrified to discover that another nurse bears a spooky resemblance to David.

Could he have cunningly infiltrated Highland Creek or has she finally lost a hard-fought battle with delirium?

Unsane sacrifices deep and satisfying character development to explore the freedom that smartphone technology grants an Oscar-winning filmmaker, who can now get uncomfortably close to his protagonists in confined spaces – both real and imagined.

Foy sports an impressive accent and affects a series of compelling facial expressions that run the gamut of confusion, terror and steely indignation.

Once the script commits itself to revealing whether the terror is only in Sawyer's muddled head, tension dissipates and we're left with a freewheeling piece of genre film-making that unsettles but never chills.

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