Unpacking and Explaining the ins and outs of the movie Unsane 

Let's Unpack and Explain the ins and outs of the movie Unsane - or how Steven Soderbergh's indie film leaves the Hollywood reservation, and in a good way, in order to bring us this inside out story of a woman's sanity pushed to the limit. IMDB
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I have to start with the most obvious detail about Steven Soderbergh’s new film Unsane, and just get it out of the way. That detail is the fact that Soderbergh filmed Unsane on an iPhone 7+. Sure, lots of movies have succeeded out at many of the festivals by blowing people’s minds on an iPhone. But that usually is done by independent upstarts that have no other choice financially. By dumping the need for for physical film, by dropping the camera costs, it eliminates much of the separatist nature of film making.  New cheap technology has been the great leveler for new film makers. But Steven Soderbergh is anything but a new film maker with the Ocean’s franchise, Logan Lucky, Sex Lies and Videotape, Erin Brockovich, all under his belt, he could have chosen to film this any way he wanted.

But this movie is sort of the bread and butter of movies that we enjoy here on THiNC. It most reminds me of the movie Pi, which I recently unpacked, in spite of its older vintage. Or maybe a Cure For Wellness, wherein the investigator becomes the patient sort of theme. But regardless, I have been waiting to see this movie for quite sometime, and I was glad to finally get a chance. I happened to be lucky enough to see this film in the theater, which I’m almost certain 99% of you watching will definitely not do. And I have to say that even though I’ve been waiting for the movie Unsane for so long I actually had no idea it was shot on an iPhone. I did notice Soderbergh’s shot choices and cinematography was showing off the size of his camera… I saw that right as the opening credits kicked off. But I didn’t know and I didn’t care, because I was more interested in the cleverness of the idea and whether or not it would fly. And I have to say, I really thought the movie held together despite the gimmickyness of the cinematography.

Ok, so yeah, is she insane? Is she trapped? What is happening? Why don’t we dive in and see for ourselves. But from here on out, we are going well behind the veil. In a word? Spoilers. FROM HERE ON OUT, SPOILERS. Ok? If you want to watch the film from top to bottom and actually enjoy it… please go away and watch it. I think the only option right now is on Amazon, right here. Unpacking and Explaining the ins and outs of the movie Unsane, shall we away?

Detailed Movie Walkthrough and Explanation for Unsane

The movie opens with Sawyer Valentini recently moving away from her childhood family home. 450 miles for a job… or something? And as the movie opens, we realize quickly that Sawyer isn’t happy in her new job, and isn’t happy socially either. So why exactly did Sawyer leave her family and roots behind? And within the first 10 or 15 minutes it all becomes clear when she gets connected with a counselor to talk about her fears of a stalker constantly ruling her life.

And this counselor? This is when the entire movie starts us down the rabbit hole. Her counselor asks, “You still see your stalker everywhere?” And Sawyer responds with, “I know this is my neuroses colluding with my imagination to create my worst fears. I know this.” And that is the foundation for our delving into Sawyer’s neuroses. After a little bit, the counselor begins asking about Sawyer’s thoughts of suicide, and voila, Sawyer is accidentally signing herself into a 24 hour mental health facility. Now, normally, I would cry foul to this arbitrary and obviously fake conceit. Except, I recently listened to a podcast from Reply All discussing how insurance companies have gone hunting for opioid addicts in order to fly them to facilities around the country and make millions off of these patient cash cows. You seriously have to check out this fantastic episode entitled Pain Funnel. So, where were we? Oh right, Unsane. Hah. So Sawyer has managed to get herself admitted to a treatment facility against her will.

But Sawyer is only discovering this slowly and with much trial and error. When she’s locked in a common sleeping room and punches one of the orderlies she finds her self not signed up for one day, but now seven. How did this happen? Well, Sawyer’s new doctor has assessed her as a threat, not only to herself, but also to others. And the real rabbit hole begins! What does she do? How can she get out? She’s not insane, right? She has a job. And she has a life on the outside to get to!

Unsane – Do Your Time Keep Your Head Down

And in the midst of this chaos, Sawyer meets one of the on staff counselors that explains what is happening here. That it is an obvious insurance scam, and that they will keep her there until the insurance runs out.

“BUT THAT’S!” Sawyer blurts out…
“Business.” Nate, declares in response.
“Highland Creek” the treatment facility, or mental health ward “is just like any other business out there.”
“But they are locking up sane people for profit. I’m locked up for 7 days because insurance company approved it.”
“Just keep your head down.”

But that would be the most boring movie ever! Great podcast. Maybe an interesting documentary uncovering a scam in the healthcare system. But awful movie. So OF COURSE she’s not going to keep her head down.

Enter David Strine.

While, standing in line to receive her daily dose of medicine, Sawyer stops, looks at the orderly and says, “You can’t be anywhere near me. This won’t work.” And voila, enter phase two of the downward spiral that is Unsane. Apparently, Sawyer believes that George Shaw, the man working at Highland Creek is her stalker from her previous life. You see, the reason Sawyer left her previous life wasn’t because of a job opportunity, but because of a man that began stalking her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Even after a court order, David Strine wouldn’t leave her alone. So she moved. But now? Now she believes that this stalker is here in this mental facility with her.

And while watching the movie, I wanted very badly to just jump out to IMDB and see what the credit was for this actor. Was his name in the credits David Strine? Or was it George Shaw? (Which I have since done, and it explicitly answers it. But the question as to whether Sawyer is actually insane only lasts ten or fifteen minutes before the answer is declaratively stated by Soderbergh. But for a few moments anyway, I assumed that David Strine was 100% in Sawyer’s head.

But soon enough, David Strine, for that is who this actually is, shows Sawyer a letter from Sawyer’s mother and with that, we know that this guy, is definitely someone with a deeper past and more evil intent than just a simple orderly in Highland Creek. Soon enough, Sawyer gets a phone from another patient, and calls her mother. And her mother starts diving into the situation, but she’s limited as to what she can do to help her daughter.

Cut to, Strine visiting Sawyer’s mother at her hotel… and we all know that that visit was never going to go well.

Pardon me an aside, but can I talk for a moment about the fact that I was 100%, absolutely certain, totally sure of the fact that Nate didn’t really exist. You know Nate, Nate Hoffman, the man that has been giving Sawyer pep talks. Letting her know she can do it. The staff member that has been trying to help Sawyer keep it together so that she can get out when her time is up, right? That Nate? I mean, absolutely no other explanation made sense to me. I was sure that he was one more bit of evidence for the end that would help prove that Sawyer was actually insane.

Matt Damon Cameo? Wait What?

And as the movie progresses, Strine gives Sawyer a fullon dose of methadone, a pep talk from Nate, and then we get a flash back to how Sawyer and Strine met originally in the care facility for Strine’s father. And then, after things start to get very weird between Sawyer and Strine, we see that he placed the blue dress she was wearing when they met on the bed while she was in the shower. And voila, she gets a restraining order, and hires a security expert to help harden her house, and her life.

THAT SECURITY GUY IS MATT DAMON? hahahaha. Sorry. That just totally and completely caught me off guard.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. And a bit later, Sawyer finds her mother’s ring under her pillow. Which doesn’t bode well at all for her mother. But when Strine sees Sawyer talking with the fellow patient that she borrows the phone from (sorry, can’t remember his name) he becomes jealous. And then he hauls the guy into the basement and hits him with 360 joules to the face? And begins torturing him. Man. Eventually, Strine hops him up on opiods (fentanyl I believe?), and leaves him in the basement to look like an apparent overdose.

Then Strine hauls Sawyer down into a padded room. The basement dungeon that we have heard mentioned before, where Strine and Sawyer face off in a one on one for the ages. Strine is certain they can live happily ever after out at his cabin in the woods away from everyone else. And Sawyer is certain that she’d rather die. Then Sawyer flips the script and starts mentally terrorizing Strine by asking who did this to him, who rejected him to make him this way. And then Sawyer gets the idea that she can’t be his first. Strine needs to have sex with someone else first so he knows what is possible.  But all of that was just a ploy to get Violet into the basement. Violet and her shiv. And when she’s brought down, Sawyer takes the tool from her waste band and hits him in the face with it. And as she is running, Strine breaks Violet’s neck.

And amongst all of this madness, we start to see clips from the police investigation as they start to find bodies and evidence of other things going on. We see news announcements of a warrant to search the Highland Creek facility, where they find Violet’s body in the basement. That and Nathan’s notebook. Because, it would seem, that Nathan wasn’t an invisible friend for Sawyer… but rather an investigative reporter. But what could he possibly be investigating? Well, the insurance fraud obviously. The holding of people against their will. Which is funny, because in that podcast I mentioned above, you know, the pain funnel one? They too did some under cover investigative journalism to discover what was going on in these facilities. So, while this may seem far fetched, it is actually not too far off base.

Ok, back to Sawyer, who has just recently escaped outside. Well, out of the blue, there he is, and he knocks her out… and puts her in the trunk… with her dead mother. Somehow, Sawyer manages to open the trunk door and jump out of the car and run for it. And with an homage to Stephen King’s book (not movie) Strine break’s Sawyer’s ankle with a hammer so she cannot run anymore.  And while she is still unconscious, lying there on the forest floor, he begins to monologue. (The downfall of all villains everywhere.) She jumps up and stabs him in the eye, and then slits his throat. Jump forward six months. She apparently has gotten a big promotion at her job. And she was out to dinner with a colleague. And across the restaurant she is certain that she sees Strine there having dinner. And she picks up her steak knife, and heads over to stab him, but at the last second she realizes that it wasn’t him after all. Sawyer drops the knife… roll credits.

Thoughts On the Movie Unsane And Its Meaning Explained

I was almost a little disappointed that Soderbergh, and the film screenplay authors, didn’t extend out the curiosity of Sawyer’s insanity further than they did. If you watched this movie at home and not in the theater like I did, you could easily go to the IMDB page and find that David Strine is the part that Joshua Leonard played and know immediately that she wasn’t insane. There wasn’t even much of an attempt to make that ambiguous. Sure, the give us that flip at the end… but obviously that is PTSD happening right there. Whereas the flip at the facility with Strine giving out the medications was her being sane as can be. But even so, I found the movie to be a fun romp. Strine was quietly and methodically devious and horrible. I could see some degree of his character being real. Just the methodical and incessant following by a truly insane stalker? Yeah, that was a bit of a mindjob right there. But overall I really thought it was a fun film. Not a ton to explain that wasn’t clearly uncovered during the walk through. But still a fun movie all the same.

A Few Random Thoughts On The Cinematography of Unsane

I did find the quality a bit grainy and grungier than most movies. But I thought that was an artistic choice by the Director. (Which, I didn’t know it was Steven Soderbergh at the time. I was just compelled by the idea.) I did realize that something was different because of the way the camera was placed up in trees, inside bushes (to foreshadow what was coming, and to hint at Strine’s watching Sawyer from afar), which can’t normally be done with a normal sized camera. I also got this feeling of extreme intimacy caused by the shooting methods of the cinematographer. I caught myself wondering more than once, how the film was shot, and how much money this budget had. And what is interesting is watching an accomplished Director willingly choosing a much cheaper camera and film just for an artistic choice, as opposed to a group of college students filming their ideas the only way they can afford.