"UNSANE" — 2 stars — Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving; R (disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references); in general release
There should be one clear takeaway from director Steven Soderbergh's psychological horror film "Unsane": Never, ever, see it on a first date. Or any date, really.
It's actually kind of difficult to think of a scenario where seeing "Unsane" would be a fantastic idea. In spite of some atmospheric production and constant tension, this story of a woman trapped in a mental hospital with her stalker just sends you out the door with a general feeling of "ugh."
We meet Sawyer (Claire Foy) as she's just hitting her stride in a new town with a new job as a bank analyst. She's a long way from home, but she assures her mother Angela (Amy Irving) that things are good. Pretty soon, though, little "Unsane" suggests otherwise.
First, her leering new boss suggests a private getaway to an upcoming conference. Then later, on a Tinder date, Sawyer freaks out in the middle of an attempted one-night stand. Finally, the truth comes out: She's come to town in order to get away from a stalker.
A visit with a kindly therapist (Myra Lucretia Taylor) gives Sawyer hope, but she's tricked into being admitted to a mental hospital in its aftermath. Suddenly the walls converge on her brand-new life as Sawyer finds herself surrounded by disturbed patients, and no one, from the nurses to the doctors to the administrators — even the police — is willing to let her out.
Then, on top of everything else, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard) gets a job on the hospital staff.
With the use of wide-angle lenses, harsh colors and extreme camera angles, Soderbergh is able to create a paranoid and unsettling atmosphere that amplifies Sawyer's terror as her situation goes from bad to worse. It's an interesting riff on the stylish design of Soderbergh's previous efforts, such as "Ocean's Eleven" and "Traffic."
Another patient, Nate (Jay Pharoah), tries to get her to stay cool, assuring Sawyer that she's just another victim of a hospital insurance scam and that they'll release her once her insurance runs out. But Sawyer continues to lash out, giving everyone more and more reason to extend her stay.
Combined with the visual style, "Unsane's" story is crafted in such a way as to keep you guessing whether Sawyer is a victim or whether her circumstances are a projection of her own mental illness. Foy does an especially good job of portraying a character who is clearly dealing with some emotional struggles and could be equal parts victim or perpetrator, and Leonard is properly effective as Sawyer's stalker.
At the same time, once the pieces start to fall into place and the reality of the situation becomes more clear, the results feel disappointing, overloaded and too unbelievable. They also get progressively more disturbing. "Unsane" earns its R-rating mostly for its scattered profanity, but there is some violence later on in the film that goes along with some suggested content that will be disturbing to sensitive audiences.
By the final reel, in spite of its attempt to provide the audience both closure and a bit of traditional horror ambiguity, "Unsane" just feels unsatisfying.
"Unsane" is rated R for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references; running time: 97 minutes.