A look of distress crossed a friend's face when I talked about the concept of this movie. I understand why even better now. Unsane's premise hints at a film that could go badly wrong, if exploited: of a girl locked up in a psychiatric hospital, who believes her former stalker has followed her there, in fact has found work there, to be with her. By the end of this movie, I think the credits should have included Exploited by Steven Soderbergh.
Because the director, Soderbergh, should have known better than to stoop to these depths, in this current climate especially. The protagonist, Sawyer (played by Claire Foy), is for most of this film tied up, bullied, abused and made to question her own sanity; no one believes her, or for institutional and insurance-based reasons, they choose to look the other way. The wardens say she's a danger to herself and the public, and they have her confessional signature – signed without her realizing – to prove it. What ensues is a sadistic, is-she-isn't-she game, as a warden in charge of her meds turns out to be the guy who used to stalk her. So the questions are set up: is Sawyer just being hysterical? Disturbed? Did she make the accusations up in the first place?
There was a point, half way through, where I wondered if some outpouring of male revenge against the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements was happening; this is ultimately a film where a white middle class man fucks with the mind of the girl and then tortures her African American fellow inmate. And do you think it stops there? Should I tell you what this rejected, angry white man does to the protagonist's mother, and how the protagonist finds her? Should I give the game away and mention bin bags and the trunk of a car, with the protagonist already locked inside?It's for the ever deteriorating, over-the-top scenes of barbarity that I question the direction of this film. I've seen girl-sectioned-in-an-asylum movies before (which sounds a bit weird); Gothika (2003) was able to expertly balance action and suspense with an ultimately positive spirit. Unsane is its ugly mirror opposite, where things keep getting worse for the female protagonist, where her ending hits one further low note; but then this whole film is a series of low notes.