Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valentini in Unsane, the new movie from director Steven Soderbergh. Sawyer is a paranoid young woman who believes the man who’s been stalking her has followed her to where she’s moved to get away from him and begin a new life. Eventually it gets so bad that she sees someone she thinks to be a therapist about it.
Only what she’s actually done is committed herself to a psychiatric institution. Or was she committed by someone else? Her tenuous grasp on reality means she can’t be sure. Becoming ever more enraged at her situation she’s pushed over the edge when she begins seeing the man who was stalking her within the institution, as one of the workers there.
Foy as Sawyer is shown on both the top and bottom half of the poster, the top half looking like a distorted reflection of the bottom. She’s looking straight at the camera as if she’s pleading for understanding from the audience, with the fuzzy image at the top conveying that she may be disturbed in some way or at least isn’t in her right mind. Both halves also feature “Is she or isn’t she?,” copy that conveys the questionable reality the audience can expect while the cast list rings the frame of the poster.
The trailer sells the movie as a psychological thriller. We meet Sawyer as she seeks help for the visions of her stalker that are keeping her on edge, help that results in her being kept in the institution. From there things only get weirder as no one seems all that intent on helping her, leading her to lash out, call the police and take other desperate actions. The only person on her side is her mother, who tries to help get her out until she seems to go missing, meaning Sawyer is more on her own and in more danger than she’d been before.
It’s a tight, terrifying trailer that is obviously rooted around Foy’s performance as a woman whose perspective the audience can’t quite trust. She’s seen lashing out and fighting with everyone around her, but the footage we’re shown means we don’t know what’s real and what’s not, which only adds to the tension. The look and feel of the movie are on display here, with a rough and dingy tone that *looks* like it was shot on an iPhone to get up close and personal, without the precision of a more expensive camera.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website doesn’t have a whole lot of content to offer visitors. There’s the trailer and cast photos along with a one-sentence synopsis. Aside from links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles Bleecker Street created that’s it.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A number of TV spots distilled the trailer down to a few core beats about how Sawyer is slightly paranoid about her stalker following her to a new city and then being committed, seemingly against her will. There’s just a small hint in these spots as to how her perspective may not be reliable or believable, instead focusing largely on this being a thriller with psychological overtones. Those spots were used on social media as promoted posts while banner ads elsewhere on the web used elements of the key art.
Media and Publicity
After rumors and whispers about its production, the movie was finally given a release date, though additional details remained unclear. Another still accompanied the news the film would have its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. The movie didn’t screen at Sundance but Soderbergh was there, making headlines for his comments about how working with an iPhone to shoot the film felt like the future to him.
That was about it. For was in the news regularly in the weeks leading up to release but that had little to do with the movie and was instead about a recently-discovered disparity in the pay she received compared to co-star Matt Smith on “The Crown.”
What this campaign does really well is sell the idea of terror happening within confined spaces, whether that’s a physical space like an institution’s room or the space of one’s own mind. That’s what it really has going for it, that everything happens in a very small area that increases the tension since if you can’t see danger in front of you it’s right behind you.
Everything else, including the “shot on iPhone” press hook, comes off as just sort of a small point and curiosity. There may be some people who are moved by the gimmick nature of that but the real appeal is in the actual story points, all of which are laid out here in a nice consistent brand message. It’s certainly not going to appeal to everyone, but it still looks like an interesting concept.
I can’t help but wonder, though, how if a female director had been behind the camera the thriller elements would have been used in service of a larger point about how women in particular are subjected not only to sexual harassment and stalking but also gaslighting. I’m not saying it would have been a better campaign, but it might have felt more immediate and relevant.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.