By Nat Master

Mailed on March 26, 2018

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Dear Peter Andrews

Dear Peter,

Most of the chatter surrounding Unsane has to do with its being shot on an iPhone; "Why?", "Does it work?", "Here’s why it doesn’t work?" etc. On the surface, the narrative doesn’t seem all that remarkable, little more than overdone B-movie tackiness throughout. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but I have to say the visual choices did make sense given what (I think) the narrative was aiming for.

The film is mostly set in an asylum, in which poor Sawyer Valentini finds herself trapped, desperately insisting her creepy stalker is up to no good. Never one to miss an opportunity to slam the Patriarchy, I took the narrative to basically be an allegory for the shit way we respond to women who complain of abuse or harassment.

The lean, dingy, slightly warped, no-frills aesthetic is therefore a smart choice. It might not work for some, but it’s a shady-as-fuck nut house - I’d call major shenanigans if the place was perfectly lit and everyone didn’t look like crap. More to the point, the visual language of the film serves to construct a particular perspective that guides the audience’s response to the unfolding narrative. By keeping things just slightly off-kilter, visually speaking, you force us to start questioning what we see. More to the point, we question what Sawyer sees. The appeal of psychological thrillers usually lies in some kind of gasp-inducing plot twist like, "Wow, it was all in his head!" or "SHE was the psycho killer all along!" No such luck here, but you still encouraged us to go there in our heads.

Sawyer, a bit prickly and off-kilter to begin with, becomes increasingly unhinged after she accidentally has herself committed, her behaviour growing more and more erratic and violent, and we start to wonder if she is actually suffering from some kind of illness or breakdown. Of course, there is another possibility; That she is completely fucking sane, thank you very much, is being held against her will, menaced by a man who has already done considerable damage to her life, and reacts exactly as any other terrified, helpless human being would in the same situation. You keep things shadowy, in a shallow depth of field, contrasted with unobscured close-ups of Sawyer, and we still have our doubts about her. You obscure everything but the bare essentials, but you still give us everything we need to inform ourselves.

This is where the film gets clever. In trying to keep up with the plot, we constantly second-guess Sawyer. We essentially become every online troll, every comment section jackass, with each question that pops into our heads: "Is she maybe making it all up? Is she actually crazy? But what proof do we have that there really is a stalker? She was kind of weird and erratic before, so maybe none of this is true." When she is clearly provoked into lashing out at the staff and other patients, she is told to calm down, to stop being so aggressive. And on and on until Sawyer clearly begins to fear that she might actually be losing her mind.

I know I’m supposed to encourage a respectful, silent movie-going environment, but I really enjoy listening to the audience whispering during a film. In this instance, the whispers were quite telling. In a pivotal scene (I’m not giving anything away, don’t worry), Sawyer unleashes a verbal tirade in an effort to defend herself. Her life is on the line, and she isn’t saying anything that isn’t well deserved. Instead of tearfully begging for her life, she lets her rage off its leash (hands-down the best scene in the film, in my opinion). And then I heard people whisper, "Wow, harsh!" The woman is trapped and threatened by a man who seeks to possess her (and, barring that, probably kill her), but we balk because she says some super-mean shit to him. And if that isn’t a perfect freeze frame of us in all our misogynist, rape-culture-perpetuating ignominy, I don’t know what is. There will be those that complain about the murky, amateurish feel of your iPhone visuals, but I think you illuminated everything just fine.



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