Love him or hate him, one thing to admire about Steven Soderbergh is his sense of experimentation. From casting himself and his family in the micro-budget absurdist comedy Schizopolis, to using non-professional actors for Bubble, to being an early adopter of digital filmmaking with works like Full Frontal and Traffic, toying around with new filmmaking (and, in some cases, distribution) techniques seems to be what drives him as a filmmaker. While he enjoyed a brief respite from feature filmmaking (his long-vaunted ‘retirement’), he’s recently come back in a big way with the breezy, fully independently funded Logan Lucky and the experimental HBO miniseries Mosaic.
For his latest trick, Soderbergh offers Unsane, a lean, mean, ‘70s-style exploitation thriller. This time he’s filmed the whole thing on iPhones, which as Sean Baker’s Tangerine demonstrated, is a highly underutilized medium for creative, economical filmmaking. While the formal feats he accomplishes with these limitations are incredible, the movie around them ultimately leaves a bit to be desired.
Video game movies are impossible to pull off – that’s the common refrain, at least. To be fair, the last quarter century hasn’t given much room to think otherwise: from Super Mario Bros. to the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies, all the way to Assassin’s Creed, it’s just difficult to translate the rhythms and mechanics of a video game to the intricate, character-driven dynamics of cinema. That Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s gritty, grounded reboot of Tomb Raider comes closest to breaking that streak is something of a minor miracle, even if it doesn’t completely break free of all the video-game clichés.