Sawyer disturbs herself sometimes.
The fact is, after being stalked by a creepster named David—whom she considers to be a lunatic—Sawyer’s life has taken a turn for the worse. You can see it in her pretty-but-haunted eyes: She’s anxious. Horribly anxious. All the time. She even took a job some 450 miles from her home town, just to get away from anything that might remind her of that completely terrible situation.
Now, Sawyer’s alone: no friends, no family. Even a casual physical encounter via Tinder can go south in a hurry. The guy she meets does one minor thing, one simple make-out movement, and it reminds Sawyer so vividly of David that she nearly hurts herself in her panic to flee him.
Increasingly, Sawyer is thinking things, doing things, seeing things from the corner of her eye that she finds very unsettling.
So the twentysomething heads to the nearest mental health clinic for a bit of emergency counseling. It goes well. The therapist she meets is a great listener. They talk of Sawyer’s fears: the strange things, the dark things, the slightly troubling things. Sawyer feels better and wants to meet with this woman again. It’s good to get everything off her chest.
However, after filling out a few perfunctory papers, checking a couple pro forma boxes, Sawyer realizes that she should have looked closer at the fine print. She’s being led into voluntary confinement at the clinic. She’s being held for observation, to make sure she’s not a danger to herself or to others.
This isn’t right. “She doesn’t belong here,” she murmurs … she declares … she screams. The more she protests, the more she flails, the more they press her against her will. But they can’t just lock her up, give her shots and tie her down.
She’s not crazy. Can’t they see that?
Wait! That attendant, he looks like¬—
Is that … David?
After being essentially locked up like an inmate, Sawyer gets a call out to her mother, Angela, for help. It’s obvious that in spite of past mother-daughter strains, Angela would do anything to fight on her daughter’s behalf.
While drinking and talking to a guy she met through a dating app, Sawyer jokingly throws out the phrase “Hail Satan!” as part of a self-deprecating joke.
Sawyer is told to strip down to be examined by hospital staff. We see her shirtless, but still wearing a bra. We also spot a glimpse of her unclothed form through a heavily frosted glass shower door. She wears a formfitting white tank top in a couple scenes.
Sawyer offers a sexual favor to a man in exchange for the use of his phone (though she never follows through). And she tells another guy that their date will go “just how he wants it to,” if he simply follows a few rules. A guy puts his hand on Sawyer’s clothed chest. She coaxes a man to have sex with another female patient and kisses the girl to calm her down.
Someone tells Sawyer that if she hooks up with the “right people” in the clinic, she can get any alcohol, marijuana or pornography she needs to help her endure her stay.
In the course of her nonconsensual confinement, Sawyer is manhandled and strapped into a bed. She’s knocked out and held prisoner. She slams herself forcefully into a wall, leaps out of the trunk of a moving car, gets choked by a man about twice her size and has her leg broken with a large hammer. She also talks briefly about having suicidal thoughts.
But we also see Sawyer strike back: She throws hot coffee into another patient’s face. She stabs someone in the shoulder with a sharpened spoon, pokes him in the eye and slashes his throat open.
A man gets slammed face-first into a mirror, tied to a wheelchair and tortured as someone presses fully charged defibrillator paddles to his temples. A female jogger finds a dead body in the woods. Sawyer uncovers a corpse while locked in a car’s trunk. A killer uses prescription medication as a “murder weapon,” making it look as if the victim he fatally drugged has died of an accidental overdose.
Some 50 f-words and five s-words join a couple uses each of “h—,” “b–ch” and “a–hole.” God’s name is misused twice.
One patient smokes cigarettes regularly. Sawyer and a date drink beer and shots at a bar.
Sawyer and other patients at the clinic are given regular doses of medication. At one point, someone purposely slips a powerful psychotropic drug into Sawyer’s daily meds—causing her to rant and run around in a hallucinatory rage. Sawyer is also given several strong sedative shots that knock her out cold.
A woman throws her used tampon in Sawyer’s face. After being heavily sedated, Sawyer awakens to find that she has wet her bed.
Scores of films fall under the “horror” genre because they make an audience squirm and flinch by their liberal application of ghosts, aliens, monsters, claws and other leap-from-the-shadows fare. But frankly, those sorts of flicks are so broadly ridiculous that you can almost always eye-roll your way clear of any true distress.
Unsane is something altogether different.
In fact, you won’t find many calling this a horror pic at all. They’ll categorize it as a thriller, or psychodrama, or something else with an intellectual slant. But considering actress Claire Foy’s queasy, nails-on-a-chalk-board performance and director Steven Soderbergh’s claustrophobic, iPhone-shot visuals, this is certainly a cinematic offering of dreadful and horrid things.
Unsane is a nightmarish, darkly disturbing and corrosively foul movie. And it’s made all the more jarring by the fact that the unhinged, life-sucking and corrupt things we see and hear … feel oh-so plausible.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.