Unsane (2018): ‘Stalker Selfie – A Personal Look at Stalker Victims’ – A Film Review



Digital filmmaking has brought the cost of filmmaking down to such a degree that micro-budget filmmaking exists and with mobile phones widespread and equipped with better and better cameras. Films made from phones was inevitable, but also speeding into the present day. Though not the first, and not actually through the means that I expected – the popular found footage film, Unsane is one such film exploring the possibilities of mobile phone filmmaking. Instantly recognisable in image quality/colour and framing, Unsane is part of an almost completely different style of filmmaking; but in actuality, just feels as if adding another tool to a Director’s tool box. Steven Soderbergh is one of the directors that makes a presence but largely is just on the radar. His films have a penchant for the technical side of filmmaking as well as a sense of gritty realism with some exceptions. Perhaps this dark thriller, made with iPhones, makes sense.


The Mood of an iPhone Film

What exactly does it achieve to shoot it on an iPhone? Commendable though it is to try to push the boundaries and achieve something new in filmmaking, it is worthwhile to ensure that the effect and its contribution to the subject matter is important. The muddy, and yet sharp and sometimes almost painted, look feels a lot more real and personal. As if looking beneath the make-up; and one has to remember that mobile phones have taken over us all and become a way to capture real events and moments with friends, so this would make sense. Further amplified by the addition of the wide-angle lenses and reduced frame, you are uncomfortably trapped, with the subject you’re seeing protruding out at you – even if not shot in close ups. Considering the themes of Unsane are stalking, insanity and a sense of personal space and identity; this feels completely on point and produces a severely uncomfortable watch.


The Stalker Paranoia

The central cast give wonderful performances in their respective roles and add a lot to the sense of the world that they’re building. Characters are well crafted to the scenes and you quickly get a revealing sense of how they see the world around them, in a similar way to Repulsion. The dark story at its basic level may take a similar path to many similar films, but through the performances of the characters and the films style, Unsane keeps a sense of the mystery that is built up between plot points before committing to a single path. The dark and mean-spirited tone builds even further by the end of the film, although Unsane stops itself from taking this too much into more shocking areas for the sake of it.



Unsane will be remembered as one of the impressive moments of mobile phone filmmaking, but focusing too much on its technique will ignore the emotional impact that the film can make. Focusing on the theme of stalking can create some misguided readings if you were to focus on this as a narrative device only, as that sense of uncomfortable paranoia is completely relevant today. It’s also not explored as often as it should be and with the changing attitudes of the day, it’s surprising that one of the last major films to cover feelings like this was Repulsion.



Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) feels uncomfortable at work and is still adjusting after having to change identity after moving and filing a restraining order on her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard). When she confesses her feelings to a doctor, she quickly finds herself locked away with the rest of the mental patients …wrongfully or not.





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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned


Repulsion (d. Roman Polanski UK 1965)

Unsane (d. Steven Soderbergh USA 2018)


Further Reading



Official Site

Interview with Steven Soderbergh

Interview with Steven Soderbergh about iPhone Filmmaking

One Phone Call Clip

Films with Mobile Phone Filmmaking

How Mobile Phone Filmmaking is Changing Cinema


If you liked this…

Red Sparrow (2018): ‘The Gritty Spy Film’ – A Film Review

Den of Thieves (2018): ‘Emotion and Plot’ – A Film Review

Dunkirk (2017) – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


Unsane (d. Steven Soderbergh USA 2018)


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