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Confronting A Troubled Past: Unsane

Updated on April 7, 2018


Unsane tells the tale of a woman caught in a dilemma from which she finds escape is not easy. Claire Foy stars as Sawyer Valentini, a Boston-born business professional who has relocated to Pennsylvania. She left to get a distance from the city because she was the victim of stalking at the hands of her late father's caretaker. She sees a counselor at a psychiatric hospital to seek a support group for victims of stalking, but winds up being held for observation. She's eventually placed in a room with other patients, including Violet (Juno Temple), who constantly nags Sawyer. Sawyer, though, is befriended by Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), who's being treated for opiate addiction. Nate has also managed to conceal a cell phone, which she begs him to let her use. When he does, Sawyer calls her mother, Angela (Amy Irving), to tell her she's being held against her will. She travels from Boston to try and arrange her release, and also seeks the advice of a lawyer.

Because of acts of aggression, Sawyer finds her stay extended from 24 hours to seven days. On her first morning at the hospital, she sees an orderly named George Shaw (Joshua Leonard), whom she believes is the man who once stalked her. Shaw, of course, denies the allegation to the head nurse of the ward. Strange things start to happen, though, after that. She receives meds that make her violent again, though the head nurse learns that Sawyer got a drug she was not prescribed. Angela cannot be reached when Sawyer places another call to her. Somebody seems to know every move Sawyer makes, or plans to make, which makes her situation even more perilous. Through everything, Sawyer never loses her determination to leave.


Unsane has little mystery to it, but it is an effective thriller about a woman once again falling victim to both an aggressor and a hospital who uses any credible excuse to tap the insurance money of its guests. Director Steven Soderbergh, who also edits and films this picture using aliases, delivers a fast-paced and tension-filled picture as Sawyer finds herself facing new demons with nowhere to run. The one thing that Sawyer doesn't know is that the hospital itself is under investigation while she tries to get back to the life she sought when she moved. Her boss thought her work was so impressive, he has plans for her that include increased responsibility. One little admission by Sawyer, though, threatens to derail that plan. The screenplay from Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer is smart, right down to the twist in the final moment.

Foy, Leonard, and Pharoah give strong performances that add to film. Foy is ambitious as Sawyer, but she is also clearly damaged by the events of Boston. Confinement makes her angry, but she returns to her smarts to guide her through the days, even when it's made clear somebody knows something that could drive her to insanity. Leonard is strong, silent, and hard working as George, who picks up extra shifts to the appreciation of his head nurse. It may be his job to ensure that the patients swallow their meds, but he also shows he can knock out a patient with just one motion. Pharoah, as Nate, stays laid back to avoid trouble, and becomes the voice Sawyer follows. He also knows how to stay busy with his cell phone. Temple has a nice supporting role as Violet, whose troubles seem more real than hospital-induced. Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance in a flashback scene as Detective Ferguson, who advises Sawyer how to keep herself and her home protected upon her arrival in her new home.


Unsane makes up for its predictability by grabbing audience attention with the story of a woman caught up in the rules of an institution that doesn't necessarily have her best interests in mind. At this institution, Sawyer finds she doesn't have enough distance between herself and her troubled past. Sawyer clearly needs help, but gets little of it when she tries to connect with others who have endured similar experiences. Viewers will be left to wonder whether Sawyer has found a suitable resource for her issues or not.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Unsane three stars. How will Sawyer move forward?

Unsane trailer


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