Fearful Foy phones in winner
SAWYER Valentini has Anne Boleyn’s mean streak and Queen Elizabeth’s steely resolve.
But as played by Claire Foy, the English actor who has nailed all three characters, Unsane’s haunted protagonist also has a scrappy, contemporary edge that thoroughly distinguishes her from her royal predecessors.
For a good portion of this compelling psychological thriller, shot by director/ cinematographer Steven Soderbergh on an iPhone, we’re in two minds about Valentini’s mental stability (a conflict that appropriately echoes her own).
Foy is mistress of the subsumed emotion; audiences are keenly aware of just how much there is going on beneath that porcelainskinned exterior.
Fear is the primary register she is operating in here.
Most of the time, the audience is afraid for Valentini. On occasion, however, we are afraid of her.
Valentini isn’t exactly a conventional leading lady.
Her fight or flight instinct, for example, is exceptionally well honed.
Sly, manipulative, violent, she lashes out when backed into a corner.
Of course, this can partly be explained by the fact that Valentini has been trapped in a mental institution against her will.
Most of us would lose our rag in such circumstances. Not so many would stab a nurse or throw a pot of hot coffee over one of the other inmates.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Valentini wasn’t always like this. Life, as she knows it, has been turned inside out by a stalker.
Long-time Soderbergh collaborator Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance as a security specialist
Having relocated half way across the country to escape her obsessed admirer’s attention, Valentini still sees him wherever she goes.
In desperation, she sees a psychiatrist. But Valentini has picked the wrong medical institution. After admitting that she has contemplated suicide, Valentini is incarcerated for her “own safety and that of others” in an organised abuse of the system that fleeces health insurers.
From Julia Roberts’ Oscarwinning Erin Brockovich to former porn star Sasha Grey’s The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh has created some strong — at times provocative — roles for women.
Valentini is certainly a character Foy can sink her teeth into.
And the film’s parallel subplot involving the medical over-diagnosis of mental illness is also intriguing (faintly echoing Ken Loach’s seminal 1966 drama Cathy Come Home).
But when Soderbergh eventually commits to more familiar genre territory — for the sake of a resolution — the film becomes more predictable. To say more, would be to reveal too many spoilers.
As a character study, Unsane is riveting. This is Foy’s film. Her performance is worth the price of admission alone.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is trapped in a mental institution against her will.