Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Unsane, or: Trapped in a Car(e Ward) With Someone You Don’t Want to Be Trapped in a Ward With

Shark Month is over, but we have a shiny new theme to look forward to: Mental May! The subject of mental health is near and dear to our hearts (and minds) on the Collab, and the timing couldn’t be better. With anxiety, stress, depression, and myriad mental health issues amplified during the pandemic–not to mention its impact on income, productivity, creativity, and employment–it feels right to highlight mental illness in film, particularly those ladies who tend to be dismissed as hysterical women. We’re diving straight into the deep end here with a disturbing look at stalking and the fine line between paranoia and reality.

The Film:

Unsane

The Premise:

A woman who is involuntarily committed for psychiatric care begins to see a familiar face from her past…or so she believes.

The Ramble:

The memorably named Sawyer Valentini is a data analyst who has no time for your shit, whether you’re client, coworker, or dude she’s on a date with. It’s maybe not a surprise that, after recently moving away from Boston for a job, Sawyer hasn’t precisely connected with anyone.

Feeling alone and afraid as the former target of a stalker, Sawyer seeks help from a psychiatrist. When she mentions suicidal thoughts she’s experienced in the past, Sawyer unknowingly sets off a nightmarish chain of events. Led to a locked room, her clothes and belongings confiscated, Sawyer is involuntarily committed to psychiatric care for 24 hours (one particular staff member giving off serious Nurse Ratched vibes included).

A woman in business clothes looks skeptically at a male nurse standing in an exam room.

As it turns out, the standard forms for the shady fucking hospital contain an agreement for voluntary institutionalization if there is concern for the patient or others. Enraged, Sawyer uses her one phone call to contact the police…who (shockingly) aren’t the most helpful.

She makes absolutely zero friends by antagonizing (admittedly rather hostile) patient Violet, calling everyone else mental, and punching a patient named Daniel. When hospital staff arrive to intervene, Sawyer believes she recognizes one of the staff members and assaults him too. Because of this behavior, a psychiatrist determines Sawyer must stay in the hospital for an additional week.

Meanwhile, recovering addict Nate tries to help out the struggling Sawyer. He explains how damn sketchy the psych hospital is, notorious for admitting patients who don’t need the treatment but whose insurance will pay for care. Since the hospital is covered legally by the paperwork patients are required to sign, there’s not much for Sawyer to do besides keep her head down and wait for the time to pass.

A woman curls up on a cot, a man sitting next to her.

Of course, Sawyer ignores this advice and picks a fight with everyone almost immediately. To give her some credit, Sawyer does see the staff member she recognized earlier and realizes he actually is the man she suspected, former stalker David Strine. As no one believes her, Sawyer demands to borrow Nate’s secret phone, a major rule violation at the hospital. Using the phone to call her mother, Sawyer believes it will be only a matter of hours before she’s released.

In a dimly lit hallway, a woman stares coldly at a bearded man in scrubs. She is waiting in a line to receive medication.

Nice way to end things? Perhaps. But there’s still half of the movie left, so clearly things aren’t going to wrap up so neatly. Sawyer’s mom is allowed a brief visit, and, armed with the truth about her daughter’s stalker and major righteous indignation, gets the law involved. However, it’s not long before she gets a visitor at the hotel claiming to be a repairman for the A/C unit in her room. This visitor will look very familiar to the audience, who may or may not scream at her to not open the door, for the love of god.

Back in the hospital, Strine nearly gives Sawyer an overdose. As she recovers, she tells the whole horrifying story of her stalker’s obsession to Nate. Included is the really disturbing advice of a detective to essentially live in fear forever. Though the moral support from Nate is appreciated by Sawyer, Strine gets transparently jealous of their special bond. This cannot end well.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Spoilers follow

*Shudder.* The suspense is real here, and the absolute unending nightmare Sawyer experiences as the victim of a stalker feels authentic. Both the idea of being stalked and involuntarily committed are horrendous, and the paranoid feeling of being trapped comes across. Strine is so creepy, playing his role so effectively that it’s Sawyer who ends up questioning her sanity. The ending is truly chilling.

I can’t help but admire Sawyer’s survival skills and toughness when wrongfully committed. Even though it’s her unwillingness to lie low that extends her stay at the hospital, it’s also this trait that ends up saving her skin. I simultaneously cheered and cringed at a certain point in the film when Sawyer confronts Strine, asking him bluntly who rejected him and made him this way.

That being said, Sawyer isn’t incredibly compassionate. It’s really frustrating to watch her have so little patience for people with serious mental illness, and especially for Nate, who spends 85% of his screen time trying to help Sawyer. There’s some discomfort in seeing a white woman constantly rebuff a black man’s sincere attempts to help, especially when he ends up dying at the hands of her stalker. However, the other deaths feel unpleasantly like a sacrifice to Sawyer too, dying so that she may live. And it’s really difficult not to come across as victim blaming to some extent, particularly as there’s one death that it does feel like Sawyer contributes to (yet doesn’t seem too bothered about).

Is this film melodramatic? Extremely. But it works because underneath it is the very raw, instinctive fear of being watched, being trapped, and being doubted.

Would my blog wife let this one borrow her cell phone or immediately go after it with an improvised shiv? Read her review here to find out!

1 thought on “Unsane, or: Trapped in a Car(e Ward) With Someone You Don’t Want to Be Trapped in a Ward With”

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