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Review: ‘Unsane’ is a lazy, B-movie horror flick inexplicably full of A-listers

Claire Foy stars as Sawyer Valentini, a woman who is hospitalized against her will in Steven Soderbergh’s latest, “Unsane.” (Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street)
Claire Foy stars as Sawyer Valentini, a woman who is hospitalized against her will in Steven Soderbergh’s latest, “Unsane.” (Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street)
By Michael O’Sullivan Washington Post

I’ll tell you what’s crazy: The name “Sawyer Valentini” is crazy. But that’s what the young heroine of “Unsane” – a movie about a woman who finds herself locked up in a psychiatric institution against her will – is called.

Played by Claire Foy of “The Crown,” Sawyer has recently moved to Pennsylvania from Massachusetts to escape a stalker. After visiting a psychiatrist, where she ill-advisedly admits to feeling suicidal every now and again, she’s handed a paper to sign and, without reading it, finds that she has just “voluntarily” committed herself to a 24-hour stay in a psychiatric hospital – a period of observation that quickly becomes an involuntary, week-long incarceration after she tries to renege on the deal and slugs a staff member in the face.

Once she’s stuck there, Sawyer finds that her psychotic tormentor from Boston (Joshua Leonard of “The Blair Witch Project”) is – reasonably enough – employed by the hospital. Or is Sawyer the psychotic one and Mr. Stalker simply a figment of her tortured imagination?

That’s the conundrum that “Unsane’s” trailer would have you believe this movie is about, but don’t buy it. “Unsane” is a straightforward, B-movie horror flick – “The Snake Pit” without the prestige – complete with intentional overdosing, electroshock torture and patients threatening each other with a sharpened spoons, when they’re not either screaming or catatonic.

It also is very, very bad.

What possible mishap of legal paperwork could explain why Steven Soderbergh would have ever agreed to direct this lazy, misbegotten mess (written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer of the Jackie Chan secret-agent comedy “The Spy Next Door”)? Matt Damon, believe it or not, also appears in a flashback cameo, as a security consultant hired by Sawyer. Did the actor lose a bet, possibly while working with Soderbergh on the director’s 2011’s “Contagion”? There’s no other reason I can think of to explain why A-listers would associate themselves with this garbage.

There are other names you may recognize: Amy Irving plays Sawyer’s mother, but don’t get your hopes up, she’s barely in it. Juno Temple is wasted as one of Sawyer’s drooling ward-mates. And Jay Pharoah, late of “Saturday Night Live,” plays a sympathetic fellow patient.

Pharoah is, at least, passably watchable. But he’s not enough to stop that sinking feeling that you, like Sawyer, have just made a terrible, terrible mistake.

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