Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Another tired horror movie

Jenny gives Soderbergh's Unsane an excoriating 2 stars

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Back in the old days when I was at the BBC learning how to be a filmmaker, my department had a higher than usual percentage of women directors. We often amused each other by betting on how long it was on a shoot before the cameraman would comment that it was all very well having young women directors (clearly it wasn’t really and it was all a bit of a puzzle to them how on earth we had got to this giddy state of authority) but you could NEVER EVER have women cameramen (sic) could you? 

The reason was always the same. ‘A woman could never carry the camera up a 15-storey tower block where the lift had broken down, now could she? (Triumphant grin). True, the camera was heavy and it had to have its own butler in attendance, an assistant, male of course, who carried the spare magazines and the toolkit of screwdrivers and other bits of essential repair kit which  it needed a man to understand.

How bizarrely quaint that seems now when Steven Soderbergh has made an entire feature film on a camera which he can tuck into his breast pocket and where a screwdriver is unlikely to be helpful if it should suffer some kind of malfunction. 

It’s not the first time the iPhone 7 has been used this way but never so wholeheartedly or with such unabashed delight. See! You can do a sort of day-for-night on an iPhone! Look! You can do wide angle! Whether you like the resulting soft focus, flattened depth of field, lost details of people’s faces and heavily saturated colour is another matter, but hey! It’s 2018! Tech rules!

The film itself? I’m sure they must have had jolly good fun making it in about five minutes and on no budget, especially Claire Foy, released from her regal rictus as the Queen in two series of The Crown to become a sweary young American analyst terrified of a stalker (Joshua Leonard) and there is a nice little cameo part from Matt Damon as a security specialist.

The name of Claire Foy’s character puzzled me: surely no one is going to be called Soya Valentini  even if they happen to have a vegan mother? But no, it’s Sawyer and possibly this is Soderbergh’s first joke of many.  Casually making an appointment at a counselling facility in her lunch hour, Sawyer suddenly finds herself incarcerated first for a day and then for a week on the grounds that her protests are merely denial of her suicidal state and that her physical struggles - she a tiny, slim woman - with the tall, massively fat staff, are pure evidence that she is a danger to herself and others. Of course, as another inmate, Nate, (Jay Pharoah) comments sarcastically, it’s all an insurance scam. So far, so Cuckoo’s Nest; please come in Nurse Ratched and turn up the Gaslight. Is she or isn’t she crazy? Possibly there is an answer but the film is so full of yawning plot holes it’s impossible to be sure what we are meant to conclude.

In the end it all turns into yet another tired horror movie where helpless women are propositioned by their bosses, stalked, tricked, tortured, locked with an attacker into rooms that are supposedly safe, thrown into body bags, abducted, strangled, stabbed, murdered and buried in woods. It reminded me of nothing so much as the black and white B-movies that I adored and adored to mock as a teenager. Same cheap, notional sets, sketchy characters, wooden dialogue and pantomime villains. Maybe as a kid Soderbergh liked them too.

Perhaps this film was made before Weinstein and #MeToo? The agenda has changed and it’s changed for good but of course it takes Hollywood and maybe men in Hollywood an awful long time to catch up, as we have seen. This stuff looks as old fashioned in its views of women as those held by my cameramen buddies back in the seventies and no amount of crowing about the wonders of iPhones could disguise this for me.  

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