Sodenbergh’s Unsane Shot on an iPhone Image

Sodenbergh’s Unsane Shot on an iPhone

By Chris Gore | April 27, 2018

Unsane is American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s latest foray into the psychological thriller genre. Soderbergh has dabbled in this area before – his 2013 thriller Side Effects was widely praised by critics and holds an 83% approval rating on movie review site Rotten Tomatoes (it’s also been certified as “fresh”).

However, Unsane is unlike any movie that’s gone before it, in that it’s the first full length feature film to ever be shot on an iPhone 7 plus. Soderbergh has recently said himself that he believes Unsane is a “game changer” and that the camera on the phone looks “like velvet… at 40 ft tall” – when you consider that he’s already in the process of shooting his second iPhone-only movie, High Flying Bird, you start to realize that the director truly believes that the iPhone camera technology has the potential to reshape the industry as we know it. The question that remains is, just how right is he?

Smartphones – Gamechangers In The Video Department

It’s fair to say that both Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones have completely altered the way we both take and consume video. Snapchat users are watching around 10 billion videos a day and according to Forbes, millennials spend on average around 27% less time than watching traditional TV than viewers aged 35 and over. Before the invention of the iPhone, you had to go down to the movie theater in order to see the latest flick or sit down in front of your television to catch up on the latest episode of Friends or whatever else was popular “back in the day” (we’re pretending we can’t remember so as not to show our age). In any case, the iPhone and other smartphones created a mobile platform for instantaneous video delivery and virtually forced every major TV and movie studio to expand their distribution methods.

“…it’s easy to see just how liberating filming an entire movie on an iPhone must be for an established director such as Soderbergh.”

Thanks to the introduction of features such as Facebook Live and other competing social mediums such as Twitch and Instagram, live video and on-demand streaming is now as commonplace as simple video playback. Live-streaming encourages audience participation and opens the door to user contributed comments and questions, which adds an interactive layer to the overall video viewing experience. Live video streaming has helped to enhance the user experience in many different areas including the gaming industry, with platforms such as Twitch and online casino sites in particular benefitting greatly from the technology. Brands such as Betway Live-Casino stream some of their more popular games, including roulette, baccarat and blackjack in high definition to replicate the high octane atmosphere of playing in a land-based casino and add a more human element to the overall experience. In addition to this, many other companies have seized upon the rising popularity of live video to help broaden their audience. American web media company Buzzfeed was one of the first companies to take advantage of Facebook Live in a video which attempted to answer that age old question, “Just how many rubber bands can you put on a watermelon before it bursts?” The video attracted around 870,000 viewers at its peak and proved that live video was perfect for escalating tension and piquing the curiosity of your audience.


So… Is The Concept Behind UNsane INsane?

In terms of building tension, Unsane does a half decent job at getting you to ask the right questions. Is Sawyer (played by The Crown’s Claire Foy) actually being stalked and is the stalker present in the psychiatric ward she’s been committed to? Or are her “minders” correct when they intimate that she’s basically lost her marbles and has turned into an irrational bumbling mess? Despite the fact that it’s easy to see just how liberating filming an entire movie on an iPhone must be for a big-time director such as Soderbergh, the medium lets itself down in various different ways. For a start, Sawyer’s ward is dark, dingy and under-lit and the smartphone’s 4k camera seemingly doesn’t handle these kind of low-light conditions all too well. In a movie where face-to-face interactions and expressions are all important, the characters often end up looking more like Slenderman than actual human beings.

The movie itself often looks dull and grimy and while this does mirror the themes and various subplots running throughout the story, you can’t help but feel that depth and visual detail is all important when telling a story which is almost entirely based indoors. As a “first try,” Unsane isn’t a bad effort but at the same time, this is a textbook example of new technology going through it’s early teething problems and as a result, the concept will remain more of a cinematic novelty than an industry defining revolution – at least for the time being anyway.


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