Sunday, April 1, 2018


I’m a big Steven Soderbergh fan. I know his heart was in the right place when crafting his latest film (Unsane), but I had more than a few problems with it. That’s kind of a good thing because the older I get the more difficult it has become to talk about films I absolutely love. How much can be said about a great film until it turns in to pointless/embarrassing gushing? Problematic films that came from a good place are the most interesting to talk/write about in my opinion. And Unsane is certainly problematic.

Right out of the gate we get the (not-so) hidden message behind the film: being a women (in this case a lone/single woman) can be shitty mostly in part to certain gross entitled men who don’t get how intimidating & threatening they can sometimes be (or who don’t have the capacity to handle rejection). Long before we get to the meat of the story involving a young woman ("Sawyer") being stalked by a crafty yet mentally unstable “admirer”, Soderbergh gives us a scene of our female protagonist being hit on by her older male boss. Actually – before that scene we’re put in to the position of the stalker’s perspective as we watch Sawyer through the bushes making her way to work (*SPOILER ALERT* while the trailer to the movie tries hint that there is the possibility of the stalker being a figment of Sawyer's imagination, he is in fact very real *SPOILER END*).

Visual similarities: The Matrix / Unsane

Being a large male myself, I often don’t think about the kinds of threats that Sawyer has to think about. What’s funny is that - due to unfortunate societal stereotypes – I may very well fit the description of someone that she may have to keep her guard up around. That sucks because I would never pose a threat to a woman but I don’t want to make this about me and the bullshit racist stereotypes that I have to deal with. This is about Unsane and the social commentary behind the harassment & assault on women.

Unsane sometimes comes off from a pandering/overly apologist (male) point of view to the point where I want to roll my eyes ever so slightly which is even dangerous to admit because I don't want people to think I'm rolling my eyes at the very real dangers women face on a day to day basis. I’m rolling eyes at how it was executed. Had I not known the intelligent Soderbergh directed this, I would have thought this was made by a young film student who would describe himself as “woke”. Unsane is absolutely for woke Indiewire readers and I find that a little disappointing because I think Soderbergh can do better than that.

It's difficult to discuss Unsane without bringing up Patrick Horvath & Dallas Hallam’s Entrance, which, in my opinion, is a much better version of what Unsane tried to be. Entrance is obviously not the first film to do what it did, but it is the first film in a long time to show the realistic horror that comes along with being stalked when you’re a woman. On the surface, one might not catch a lot of the comparisons between Entrance & Unsane so allow me to break it down...

The stalker's gaze in Entrance (top) & Unsane (bottom)

Both movies are shot from a male gaze both behind the camera (both films are directed by men) and in front of the camera (the majority of both films are shot from a threatening male gaze). Both films center around women who are unhappy in life outside of/in addition to their current stalker situations. The budgets to both films are modest (although not visible, obvious, or distracting) and they both rely on modern/digital technology.

men potentially invading personal space in Entrance (L) & Unsane (R)
men standing close in Entrance (L) & Unsane (R)
the antagonist attacking their victims in Entrance (L) & Unsane (R) in similar ways...

Now…I am not trying to say that Steven Soderbergh tried to plagiarize or copy Horvath & Hallam, but given Soderbergh’s insane movie consumption along with the type of lane that Entrance falls in, I find it hard to believe that Steven Soderebrgh didn’t see the 2012 horror film. Perhaps some unintentional residue was left in his subconscious.
If you watch a lot of movies, things are going to rub off even if you don’t intend them to. The sterile-yet-static world of working in an office cubicle seen at the beginning of Unsane is reminiscent of both Clockwatchers & season one of The Girlfriend Experience (two projects that Soderbergh has been attached to). Honestly, I almost feel like Unsane would have been better had it taken place inside of an office instead of a mental facility. If you scroll social media then I’m sure you’re aware of all the scientific studies that show how working in a sterile environment like an office (combined with a frustrating commute) can negativiley effect our psyche over time.

As a designer in the world of office furniture I must say that while cubicles may seem depressing & constricting (and they are), they are much better than these current open office solutions without any office cubicles or office panels. There’s this romanticized notion about how we shouldn't be closed in by tall office panels but they block out sound and do provide privacy. There’s no longer any sound absorption in the workplace and now you can hear every little thing which is enough to drive someone INsane. People think open/collaborative workspaces are the answer but in my personal opinion (the opinion of someone who draws office cubicles while sitting in one), I miss the privacy of office cubicles.
There’s your psychological horror right there. The horrors of working in an office. It would be a serious/scary flip on Office Space.

Entrance isn’t the only film that may have potentially influenced Unsane. There are unintentional nods to everything from One Flew Over The Cuckcoo’s Nest to all those psychological thrillers that came out in the early/mid-00’s (The Jacket, The Machinist, Fear X, etc).

paranoid schizophrenia in Seconds (l) & Unsane (r)

And speaking of residue from previous films, I wonder if Unsane is one of many films to follow Get Out's revitalization of the "social horror" genre (by social horror I mean horror films with an obvious social "message" behind them).

Soderbergh shot his latest project on an iPhone which seems to be what people care about more than anything else. At this point I don’t care what a movie is shot on. I’m kind of over the “one trick pony”/”gimmicky” films. You know what I mean; “this movie was made with a $100 budget” or “this movie only used non-professional actors” or “this movie was shot entirely in one room”. It’s as if by giving out that information in the promotion of the film that some type of leniency will be given because there were restrictions involved. While shooting a good/great film with various limitations can be impressive & commendable – I just care about if the movie is good or not. In this case I don’t think the film was good.

I guess the most positive aspect to come from Unsane (and Soderbergh’s recent filmography in general) are his female casting choices. I’m not sure if anyone notices this but his last few films feature a combination of veteran actresses who haven’t gotten much recent work alongside new up & coming actresses who may not have much of a “name” yet. True, Katie Holmes is a household name but Riley Keough (up & comer) & Hilary Swank (Veteran) shined in Logan Lucky. We see Sharon Stone star in Soderbergh's Mosaic. In Unsane, our two female leads are Claire Foy (Sawyer) & her mother played by veteran Amy Irving (I checked wikipedia and Amy Irving hadn’t acted in a film in almost a decade until Unsane while Hilary Swank hadn’t acted in anything in three years until Logan Lucky). I’m not sure if this is an intentional statement on Soderbergh’s part but I think we all know a lot of issues concerning gender equality have been brought to the forefront in recent years. I don’t know all the details but why doesnt a two-time academy award winning actress (Swank) show up in more films? Why is a veteran Depalma regular (Irving) barely working these days? This could very well be me making a potential fuss out of nothing but I do think it is worth mentioning.

Another positive thing to come from Unsane is that it makes me want to go deeper inside Soderbergh’s mind. He comes off as someone who gets easily bored yet needs to be creating all the time. If you’ve followed his career you know he’s experimented and tried different mediums, styles, cameras, etc since day one. He’s gone from movies to television and back to movies. When he isn’t writing or directing, his idea of fun is re-editing/remixing other people’s older films. I just wish he would control and sculpt all of that energy in to one solid project at a time instead of throwing stuff to the wall and seeing what sticks which seems to be what he's been doing for quite some time.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...