Unsane – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

How would you feel if your therapist, nurses, doctors, local police, and family attorney kept you trapped in a mental hospital against your will? What if the stalker who’s been harassing you for years is locked inside the hospital with you? Even the most rational person might begin to feel a little unsane, i.e., not insane, but not totally sane either.

Claire Foy stars in Unsane. Photo copyright 2018. Bleecker Street.

This worst-case scenario is what happens to Sawyer Valentino (Claire Foy), a young financial analyst working at a new job in Pennsylvania. Having fled her previous life in Boston because of a persistent stalker, she seeks help at a treatment center to share her story with a sympathetic counselor. She talks of occasional suicidal thoughts, and then finds herself swiftly being involuntarily committed to the hospital. Despite her best efforts to talk her way out of the institution, her 24-hour mandatory stay keeps getting extended each time she acts out of frustration.

Harassed by a Stalker

Sawyer is tormented by one patient (Juno Temple with some major anger issues) and befriended by another (Jay Pharoah as a recovering drug addict who reveals that as long as insurance pays, mental patients stay). Her anxiety soars to dangerous levels when a newly hired staff member arrives on the scene – George Shaw (Joshua Leonard), whom she claims is actually David Strine, her stalker.

Naturally no one believes her because she’s a patient in a mental hospital, George’s credentials are impeccable, and his demeanor remains calm against her raging outbursts. And Sawyer’s mother? Well her oddly dressed mom (Amy Irving as a woman who dresses to match her wallpaper and dishes) has good intentions, but can’t do much on her own to help her daughter.

The question of whether or not Saywer is crazy gets answered before the first hour is over – far too early – and then another question takes over: Who will die in the messy process of conflict resolution?

Shot on an iPhone

Director Steven Soderbergh shot the film entirely with an iPhone, but other than a murky darkness and some uncomfortable camera angles, the low-budget filmmaking probably won’t matter much to casual movie-goers. The music, composed by Thomas Newman, is appropriately discordant and unsettling for someone questioning her sanity, and fits perfectly with the slightly off-kilter cinematography.

Foy does a great job in the role, manifesting fear, paranoia, weakness, cunning, and strength depending on the situation. Pharoah also stands out by providing a natural performance with a few welcome chuckles amid the otherwise gloomy surroundings. The other roles are not well defined, and we learn little about her stalker’s background. Overall, the film is cool, edgy, and intriguing, but reveals its secret too soon, so that it begins as a thriller and ends as a horror film.


  • A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental hospital and confronts her deepest fear head-on in this psychological thriller.
  • Stars: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving, Polly McKie, Zach Cherry
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Genre: Thriller/Horror
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references)
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.



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