Unsane

 

            Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) moved to Pennsylvania from Boston to take a good job offer.  She's done well, the Manager has called her in to praise her work---and offer her a trip to a conference with him, which she politely declines.  She keeps to herself, much to the curiosity of her cubicle co-workers.  To discourage speculation, she infers that her “significant other” might be a woman, which she hopes might make her more immune to unwanted innuendo.  She talks to her mother back in Boston on her lunch break.  At night, sometimes she flirts with men in a bar, but she also makes sure it doesn't go anywhere.  She's had more than enough interest from a male.  It seems she really moved to escape a stalker, against whom she had to take out a restraining order.  Though she thought that some physical distance might help her anxiety, she nevertheless decides to seek some counseling.  That turns out to be a big mistake.

            It seems this counseling facility is actually a mental institution, who will jump at any opportunity for patient admissions, including your signature on forms they claim are “routine” and “boilerplate.”  But they actually allow involuntary incarceration.  Before Sawyer knows it, she's ushered to an inside corridor, where she is given a sedative, and placed on a floor with other “inpatients.”  Doesn't matter how much she protests.  She asks for her one phone call, and she dials the police.  Except when they come out, they just look at her paperwork in the reception area, and go back to the station.  They've done this a few times before.

            Sawyer is not cooperating, and that, of course, just makes things worse for her.  When an employee tries to stop her from fleeing by putting his hands on her, she hits him.  That earns her a bed with restraining straps.  When another “inpatient” harasses her and attempts to intimidate her, she answers that with physicality, also, and gets “disciplined” again.  Any more, they say, and it's down to the basement---solitary confinement.

            Taking medication is a ritual where you have to physically ingest the medicine in front of a staff member, then open your mouth and stick out your tongue to prove you have not hidden it instead.  Only one person shows her any kindness, Nate (Jay Pharoah), is in there for opioid addiction, and tries to tell her that the way to make an good impression is to follow the rules, keep your head down, and don't make waves.  But that's not in Sawyer's nature, not when she's determined to prove that there's been some huge mistake.  And then the real nightmare starts:  her stalker returns, in the form of the new staff guy, David (Joshua Leonard), who claims to have no idea what she's talking about.  So who's the crazy one here?

            Director Steven Soderberg ratchets up the creepiness level, as Sawyer's sense of helplessness increases.  We empathize with her experience of the unsympathetic bureaucracy.  And most of us have emcountered “unwanted attention” at some point, not to mention situations where we felt helpless, and the harder we tried, the worse it got.  Golden Globe winner Claire Foy's presence expertly commands the screen, even when she's not glamorous.  Her performance is the high point of an uncomfortable film that speaks its own truth, but will struggle to find an audience.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association