Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Unsane (2018) - Movie Review’s a specific type of discomfort that comes out of watching a film like this. It’s the discomfort in knowing when someone is actually telling the truth but everyone else insists that they’re not. The feeling that makes you want to put your hands through the screen into the film’s reality and just start yelling that this person is right, that things are happening to them, or at the very least give assurance that they’re aren’t as crazy as everyone wants that person to believe.

It’s an incredibly visceral reaction, but it’s quite fitting for a film that deals so deftly with visceral feelings and instincts. Steven Soderbergh is, among other things, an experimentalist in all things cinema. He’s an artist who believes that real art should have the power to stand on its own terms as art, regardless of who is doing it; this is why he makes it a point to use pseudonyms for his cinematography and editing work on his features.

Of course, that ends up denying the outright talent he has at putting films together, and this is no exception. Shot entirely using iPhones, with the natural letterboxing to go with it, the film has a very Inland Empire look to it, a sense of proximity to reality that makes what happens in the frame, even the stuff that may not even be happening, feel that much worse. The creeping shots of Claire Foy’s Sawyer and her confinement in a mental institution against her will, the buzzing soundtrack that only grows more distorted as Sawyer’s perception itself becomes distorted; they give this film an definite uneasy quality that makes the pure psycho-thrills stab the audience right where it hurts.

As far as the writing this all in service to, courtesy of Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, there’s a lot to unpack in this seemingly-simple film. The mental health industry, the nature of insanity itself, the unnerving understanding of how innocently abusers treat their own actions; there are some intriguing veins being tapped to bring this story together.

But bar none, the big thing at the heart of all of this is something that society at large is growing more and more aware of: How victims of abuse are treated. In situations where abuse victims step forward, they proceed to be scrutinised within an inch of their lives. Did they remember the event correctly, did the event even happen at all, is there anything about the victim that could make them lose credibility at recounting the event, etc. When someone in a psychologically vulnerable position like that is asked to relive a particularly traumatising moment, only for it to be off-handedly disregarded and for their story to go unheard, it can feel like you’re going insane. This person clearly did something wrong, why can’t anybody else see that? Why are you examining every detail of the story except for what they did to me? Why don’t you help me?!

Gaslighting is a seriously ugly thing, quite possibly one of the most heinous pieces of social psychology we have access to. And yet, we seem to have an unsettlingly good relationship with it, right down to having the occasional feature film highlighting the practice as a good thing. It’s maddening, and in the case of this film, it only heightens the intensely unpleasant feelings pouring out of the frame. It’s a psycho-thriller that goes so far into directly touching the psyche that it cracks open the emotional stockade as well, resulting in a very smart, very finessed, very hard-to-watch-for-all-the-right-reasons flick.

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