5 April 2018 | littlemankazoo
Snatching Mediocrity from the jaws of Intrigue
There's a part of me that absolutely adores it when a filmmaker goes the experimental route and tries something that's never really been done before.
And while this isn't the first time this sort of filming technique has been used for a film, I had to say, I was rather intrigued when I was sitting down for "Unsane", the new film by Steve Soderbergh ('Ocean's Eleven', 'Contagion', 'Magic Mike').
To explain: 'Unsane' was entirely filmed on an iPhone 7 camera in only ten days, which is incredible in that it was made entirely in secrecy by a big name director such as Soderbergh. The budget also barely pokes over $1 million total. By all accounts, this is as INDIE as a big name director can get.
So you probably will start asking yourself: "How does it look?"
To me...I think the film would have been LESS interesting if it was filmed in the typical method of high quality digital cameras. I know I always use the term "nightmarish" to describe claustrophobic cinematography in films, but this film looks like a NIGHTMARE. Fluorescent lighting and angles look warped and distorted, as if our characters are living in a German expressionist film, close ups look terrifying as we see every emotional detail of these characters in sketchy quality that only a phone camera could really capture in full. The whole film looks like a fever dream, and unlike 'Tangerine' (The first feature film to be filmed on an iPhone), this film truly has a "reason" to be filmed in this style.
To me, the experiment Steve Soderbergh tested here WORKED. The cinematography is its own style, and when a film can define itself with that sort of technique, it has certainly succeeded.
Going hand-in-hand with this great cinematography is the surprising performance by Claire Foy, who is admittingly quite good in her role of a person you have to decide if you think is crazy or not crazy. She does have a few slip-ups where you can hear her British accent come out...but other than that, she is a convincing central character and I bought every emotion coming out of her.
So it probably sounds like I really enjoyed this film thus far, correct?
The problem is, I enjoyed the first TWO-THIRDS of this film. After that, I think this film absolutely falls apart and loses everything I thought it had going for it.
A certain sequence in the film that looks absolutely SPECTACULAR is really the last time I connected with the film before a certain plot detail and twist begins to make itself apparent. As it began to unfold, I thought "There's no way they'd go with something THIS stock and basic..."
Unfortunately, they do, and by the time the film is running-down its last 15-20 minutes, my intrigue had been sapped and I was left simply to watch a film that was going through the motions. A crime that films can commit is being "Bad", for sure, but a worse crime a film can commit is being "Boring". The third act of this film is guilty of exactly that. It's stock and went exactly as I predicted it would, which truly hurts.
And let us discuss THE ENDING, which I think may be one of the worst of the last few years, right alongside 'The Devil Inside', 'Skyline' or 'The Florida Project'. The ending is such a sloppy and slapdash piece of cinema that I really wonder WHY they even bothered to shoot it. It's boring, cliche, has yet to really make much sense to me since I saw it (I saw this film on Tuesday, by the way...), it looks TERRIBLE in comparison with the rest of the film, and leaves us on a freeze-frame shot that looked completely unplanned and clearly done as a way to say "Yep! That's the end!". While I could've seen something more developed working in a similar vein, this just felt awful and like a last-ditch effort to end the film in an 'unresolved' manner, which this film never had the course for after its third act. Simply awful.
In the end, I left this film feeling extremely disappointed, really. I was enjoying the film quite a bit up until a certain point, where everything just seemed to fall into the pits of the cliched and been-there-done-that. Perhaps it was partly my fault for expecting more out of a film that promised a unique look and story about sanity, but in the end, I can blame the film as well for squandering such an incredible opportunity to make an interesting psychological thriller/horror film with such a weak third act. It PAINS ME that this film couldn't be good all the way through.
...THAT SAID...I really cannot say enough about the cinematography in this film. Steve Soderbergh's work in this (Yes, he directed AND filmed this!) looks absolutely stellar, even for an iPhone camera, and makes it worth seeing just for curiosity's sake alone. I feel it works far better than it did for 'Tangerine', and clicks with me on a level that it puts you in the perspective of our protagonist, who is struggling with her sanity in a place that is a proverbial nightmare. The film looks like a bad dream, and in the end, that appealed to me on that level of loving to see experimenting in film.
It's just a shame that the intriguing experimentation meant a sacrifice for an intriguing story and third act. This could have been a far better film than it was. In the end, it lands somewhere in the middle for me...though I REALLY wish it didn't...