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Unsane (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane made its buzz by being a horror movie shot using only an iPhone. No, its not the first film to utilize the day-to-day device to make a film and Soderbergh’s not the first prestigious director to test his hand at it (I believe Chan Wook Park was first). However, Unsane is probably the first high profile iPhone film and one with the biggest and widest mainstream theatrical release. Granted, the film didn’t turn into some modest hit, but who knows how inexpensive the film probably was (It didn’t even cross ten million dollars domestically and barely over worldwide). I expect those curious will finally check it out now on home video and it may be a find for those who had never heard of it when it releases on June 19th.

Film 

Sawyer Valentini relocates from Boston to Pennsylvania to escape from the man who’s been stalking her for the last two years. While consulting with a therapist, Valentini unwittingly signs in for a voluntary 24-hour commitment to the Highland Creek Behavioral Center. Her stay at the facility soon gets extended when doctors and nurses begin to question her sanity. Sawyer now believes that one of the staffers is her stalker — and she’ll do whatever it takes to stay alive and fight her way out.

As far as I’m concerned, Steven Soderbergh’s decision to shoot a horror/thriller on an iPhone is a rousing success. What he’s most importantly done, is find a story and script that gels with the stylistic choice to do this. Soderbergh isn’t just using the iPhone to use the iPhone here, the film feels like it needed a specific look and feel to it. The story is constantly surrounded in paranoia and the look that the iphone provides is maybe the best way and compliments the story in the best way. It feels as if there is more purpose here than there is experimentation.

Bringing it all together is a solid cast who (cameo aside) doesn’t distract by being some name actor in an iPhone movie. But these aren’t nobody’s. Lead Felicia Joy has the weight of the film on her and she does it quite well as she both makes her character tough to swallow and sympathetic ceremoniously. Jay Pharoah brings a solid dramatic part and is just easily lovable. Soderbergh also decides to add dashes of horror love in a couple parts with The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard and Carrie’s/The Fury’s Amy Irving. So there’s from fun to go around with those longtime fans of the genre.

Many moons ago, I was a very big fan of Soderbergh’s “I’m going to a small town and making a movie starring small town people” independent film Bubble. This feels like the most exploring of the craft of filmmaking since that movie. Unsane is a slow burner and from the technical aspect of things, a very experimental minstrel in terms of the how it comes to be. I can’t say this is for everyone. I say rent the film first, but also if you are 4K capable, that’s how you NEED to watch it as the standard Blu-ray has some subpar issues. The pace is slower, there’s not a whole lot of action and its very experimental, but again, that’s my bag and it may not be yours.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.56:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Unsane was shot on an iPhone at 4K and finished with a 4K DI. This 4K Ultra-HD is a bit of a triumph here as I found this to be a better presentation than when I saw it theatrically. Details are stronger and the film doesn’t fall victim to darkness as much as it did on the big screen. The film has a stylish look to that wasn’t as noticeable here. Its a crisp image and has the colors looking very bold and natural, assisting to craft a well rounded image.

Depth:  There is a really good spaced out look here. The foreground feels a bit more blunt here and due to the nature of the source, camera movements came come with a little bit of jitter and have a little odd/amateur film look to them.

Black Levels: Blacks are natural and a little deep. This image has opened up a little from what I remember on my theatrical viewing. Nothing ever is hard to see and details protrude through with ease. No crushing issues on this image either.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty strong, with blues being pronounced. Though, most primary colors shows good pop and strength. HDR is a little light on the glow, but is used to more natural degrees. Overall the film has a bit of a 70s rustic feel and look to it. Its an interesting choice where they could have just settled on lots of bright whites in the clinic.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and pretty consistent from the beginning to end of the film. Facial features are clear as day, showing every freckle on Felicia Joy’s face, stubble, lip texture wrinkles and everything is visible from most all distances.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: Unsane contains the same track as the Blu-ray, but its more than enough for the film. An Atmos track probably could have had some fun, but this is fine. Its a rather quiet film that is mainly all dialogue and ambiance. The score is a little too strong on the subwoofer. Most effects and such feel like they are ever-present and in the room with you.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The bass on the score gets really low and hits a very hard. I had to turn the volume down on my subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: Soundscapes, score and some unique sounds can populate the rear channels, but this is a rather front heavy picture. Movements and volume placement project with good accuracy.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are loud and at the forefront, crisp and clear.

Extras 

Unsane 4K Ultra-HD comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film.

Unsanity (4K, 4:26) – A very nonchalant behind the scenes piece. No interviews, just clips and audio from the movie  mixed in with some behind the scenes footage.

Summary 

Unsane is a worthwhile experiment in filmmaking by one of the best filmmakers at scratching that creative kind of itch. This 4K Ultra-HD gives the film a unique presence with a very nice uptick over the Blu-ray in the visual department. Extras area  letdown, as hearing Soderbergh discuss his process and approach to it would have been welcome. But alas, this has to weigh on the strength of the film, which I enjoy quite a bit, but it probably isn’t one for everybody.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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