Unsane Review (Film, 2018) #31DaysofHorror
Unsane is a horror film about mental health care. Yes, we’re toying with problematic subject matter here for the horror genre. Somehow, director Steven Soderbergh and writers Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer craft a horror film that doesn’t vilify mental health patients, largely because the main characters in the film are patients at a mental hospital who really don’t belong in that kind of facility. Yes, that itself is a cinematic trope, but it’s handled in a way that at least explains through believable circumstances how the setup happens.
Sawyer has moved to a new city for a new job. She’s stressed, so she goes to a therapist. She explains how she was the victim of a stalker. She also admits that in the past, she has thought about suicide, and the therapist uses that to have her committed for 24 hours in a mental hospital. When she fights back because no one will explain that to her, she gets seven more days in the facility. Unfortunately, the one orderly looks just like her stalker.
Unsane wisely dives right into some of the more problematic elements of the mental health care system in the United States. There is a perfectly sound logic to referring patients who might be a risk to themselves. If you feel your patient could potentially harm themselves or someone else, you try to get them help. I don’t know for sure that a patient can be told to sign paperwork without being told that they are going to held, but the concern is to make sure the patient is safe and able to be continue functioning. Unsane leans into the “she didn’t know” element of it to set up the horror (a bit too heavily) and definitely preys on the fear of involuntary commitment from admitting to suicidal thoughts (however distant). It feels honest to this story, though.
The more terrifying elements are the discussion of how treatment is handled in the United States. From the insurance claims defining how long a patient can be held to the economics of keeping beds filled in this kind of facility, Unsane covers a lot of ground that might seem unbelievable; it’s not. Despite sensationalizing it in this kind of narrative, the ideas presented about patients’ rights, unhappy workers, and the, frankly, prison-like standards of many psychiatric facilities is real. That’s the true horror of this film.
This nonsense plot about a stalker getting a job at the exact facility his obsession is working at is nonsense. The film flies off the rails when it focuses on this story. It becomes overly wordy, manipulative, and (frankly) less believable than a conspiracy to extend a woman’s stay in a mental health facility to keep eyes on her. Everything that happens in the last half hour of the film is utter nonsense with no basis in reality. Some really vile things happen just to justify this film’s existence as a horror film that don’t feel natural to the story because they’re not.
Is it worth watching Unsane? It depends on what you’re looking for. Claire Foy’s performance as Sawyer is masterful. 2/3 of the film works as a solid critique of mental health care in the United States. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend here. It’s just another horror film that goes off the rails.
Unsane is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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