Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane on an iPhone, but not in the way Sean Baker's bright and funny Tangerine was, where the director did everything he could to minimize that fisheye look. Instead, Soderbergh embraces the technology and its limitations, giving us flat compositions and the sense that his camera is surveilling the characters rather than carefully photographing them. That's thematically appropriate. This pulpy thriller tells the story of a terrorized woman in a mental hospital who's trying to convince the staff and patients that she shouldn't be there and is being held against her will. Her phone has been taken from her, and the movie has the look of having been smuggled out itself. Simple and well-acted, Unsane has tension enough to knot the stomach. But it's wildly different from Soderbergh's previous film, the star-studded and critically acclaimed country caper Logan Lucky, which was set in a cartoonishly jubilant reality. Unsane comes closer to the spirit of his first feature, Sex, Lies and Videotape, not in subject matter or genre but in experimentation of form.
In Sex, Soderbergh experimented with video and the distance that medium created between audience and character. Here, he's eliminating distance almost completely, as Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) appears on the screen like any of your Facetime contacts might. And while the director obsessively employed tracking shots in Sex, he's patient with static shots in Unsane, allowing the blocking of his actors' movements to create dynamism. It's not necessarily with the kind of careful choreography of a Steven Spielberg take, but with a kinetic energy that had me questioning how and where the characters would go next, as I might in a tense stage play.