Steven Soderbergh made critical and commercial hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky. Now, the director intends to wow us once again with his psychological thriller, Unsane. The film (which stars The Crown‘s Claire Foy) tells the story of Sawyer Valentini, a data analyst being stalked by a former boyfriend. Desperate for help, Sawyer ends up accidentally committing herself to a mental institution, where she’s forced to confront many horrors, including the return of her stalker.
Unsane promises to be a unique exploration of the human mind. However, the movie’s uniqueness doesn’t stem only from its captivating story. It also stems from the fact that Steven Soderbergh filmed the entire thriller on an iPhone 7 Plus. With Unsane hitting theaters nationwide on March 23, let’s take a look at how Soderbergh put together his dark psychological tale.
Inspiration For A Bold Approach
Speaking at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (via IndieWire), Soderbergh revealed that the idea to film Unsane on an iPhone came from his fervent desire to detach himself from the Hollywood studio system, as well as to give himself the opportunity to craft projects on his own:
“I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d get back and do that […] I don’t know what the upside would be. I don’t think they’re necessarily looking for what I bring and I don’t know that I’m looking for what they bring. There are things they do very well and they do them.”
Aside from paving his own path, Soderbergh also saw a technical advantage to filming with an iPhone camera. As he explained at Sundance, the phone’s light weight allowed him to easily move the camera around and film scenes in whichever way he pleased. Furthermore, the iPhone granted tremendous control over the post-production process, something the director found “gratifying.”
Despite his excitement and the many advantages he saw in leaning on an iPhone to make his dark psychological tale come to life, Soderbergh was understandably apprehensive about committing to such an unorthodox method of filmmaking. As he revealed during a panel at the Berlin International Film Festival, he feared the movie would be seen as a gimmick, rather than a compelling story that happened to come together through unconventional methods.
According to Soderbergh, he realized that, regardless of how audiences perceived the project, he was completely satisfied with his work. As an added bonus, the director also felt that the novelty factor of its development process could be a powerful driving force to motivate people to go see it:
“We tried to keep [the film] a secret for as long as we could. And there was some discussion early on about whether or not we really wanted to define ourselves as ‘that iPhone movie.’ Ultimately, I decided ‘I’m not defensive about it at all. I’m very happy with the way the movie looks.’ If people turn out to see it out of curiosity, that’s still the price of a ticket. So we’re trying to make it clear that this is a psychological thriller that doesn’t turn into a violent extravaganza. That it’s actually a very character-driven piece.”
Soderbergh’s bold approach ultimately paid off because the film has so far been enjoying great critical success.
It Could Inspire Filmmakers To Try New Techniques
Developing a movie is no easy feat. Countless young filmmakers struggle to get their projects off the ground. Unsane helps prove that hopeful filmmakers already have great tools to bring their movies to life. Soderbergh used a device the millions of people already own to create one of his most promising projects yet. In doing so he proved that expensive equipment isn’t really needed to make a film, regardless of how ambitious it may be.
Granted, Unsane wasn’t the first movie to be filmed on an iPhone. Some of the most recognizable films shot in the same way are I Play With The Phrase Each Other, And Uneasy Lies The Mind and Tangerine. But Unsane is in a unique position thanks to its wide theatrical release and Soderbergh’s name recognition. It will be able to reach a much wider audience, including up-and-coming filmmakers who may not have been aware of the aforementioned movies due to their limited release.
Soderbergh Will Probably Shoot With An iPhone Again
Putting aside the impact Unsane could have on audiences, one person the movie already left a mark on is Soderbergh himself. During his interview at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the director said he had fallen in love with the process of filming with an iPhone, and would be more than willing to employ the same method for his projects moving forward:
“I’d have to have a pretty good reason not to be thinking about that first […] There’s a philosophical obstacle a lot of people have about the size of the capture device. I don’t have that problem. I look at this as potentially one of the most liberating experiences that I’ve ever had as a filmmaker, and that I continue having. The gets that I felt moment to moment were so significant that this is, to me, a new chapter.”
Given just how well-crafted Unsane seems to be, and how well-received the film has been so far, it will be exciting to see Soderbergh apply the same simplistic approach for future projects.
If you’re eager to delve into Soderbergh’s complex psychological tale, Unsane opens on March 23, 2018.