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Steven Soderbergh goes experimental again with “Unsane”

In coming out of a short self imposed retirement, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh clearly was not going to return to blockbuster cinema. Smaller movies consistently were where Soderbergh made his mark, whether it was Sex, Lies & Videotape or even his revolutionary approach to Bubble. The latter work has a clear influence on his newest project, Unsane. This week, he unleashes the flick in theaters, going much wider with the release than you’d expect. An experimental film, shot on an iPhone, it’s another clear example of the filmmaker refusing to rest on his laurels. Back in the business, he continues to do it his way. Frankly, would you expect him to do it any other way?

The movie is a hybrid thriller with even a bit of a horror element added to the mix. The IMDb plot description leaves a lot to the imagination: “A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?” That woman is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), and she’ll be subjected to some real psychological distress. I’m sure it works best when the surprises are revealed to you during the actual film, so the less said, the better. Soderbergh obviously is in the director’s chair, while also serving as the cinematographer (credited as Peter Andrews) and editor (credited as Mary Ann Bernard). The script is by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, while the supporting players in the cast include Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharaoh, Juno Temple, and more. Obviously, the way he opted to film this one is buzz worthy, but the main takeaway besides that is the turn by Foy.

Soderbergh has always been one to shuck tradition and do things as he saw fit. That’s led to success on all levels of cinema. There was the micro budget of things like The Girlfriend Experience and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, as well as mid level fare such as Erin Brockovich, Logan Lucky, Magic Mike, and Out of Sight. Then, you can’t forget that Traffic was one of his most successful, done on a much larger budget, not to mention the Ocean’s trilogy, notably Ocean’s Eleven. He may have a very specific view and interest as a filmmaker, but he can tackle myriad subject matter and do it on all sorts of budget levels. That’s the mark of a true auteur. This latest time, he’s just doing it on an iPhone, almost just because he can. It’s a bold move, one that even if some won’t dig, is worth applauding him for even attempting.

This is how I would rank Soderbergh’s top dozen films to date, not counting Unsane:

12. Che: Part One
11. The Informant!
10. The Girlfriend Experience
9. Solaris
8. Haywire
7. Erin Brockovich
6. Logan Lucky
5. Contagion
4. Out of Sight
3. Sex, Lies, and Videotape
2. Magic Mike
1. Traffic

On Friday, audiences and especially fans of Soderbergh will be in for something pretty different when Unsane opens in theaters. Despite the look and material, which would suggest a very small platform release, this flick is getting put out into a ton of theaters, which should be interesting. Regardless, it’s a new Soderbergh film, which at one point seemed like something we could never again see. As such, even the existence of this movie is something to celebrate. Logan Lucky was a tremendous welcome back and return to classic form for the director, while this suggests that he’s very much still going to experiment as he continues to work in the industry. As curious an A-list filmmaker as there is, there really isn’t anyone else in Hollywood like Soderbergh…

Be sure to check out Unsane, opening in wide release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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