Shark Month was a lot of fun and I’m extremely reluctant to leave it behind because well, sharks always make sense and during this period, why not enjoy some certainty? But we can come back to all the glorious sharky goodness we haven’t already explored at another time. May is a new month and I’m thinking of labeling it Mental May.
We’ve done this before and it’s worth reiterating that we’re not using the term ‘mental’ in a derogatory way. We’ll just be exploring films about hysterical women and mental is a word so often thrown around in relation to them. We begin with a Steven Soderbergh number that explores one of my greatest fears – being imprisoned/institutionalised against my will.
A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?
Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is a young woman new to the city. Having recently taken on a rewarding but demanding banking job, she’s 450 miles from her mother and somewhat isolated. You know why? Because of a man. A rotten stinking stalker called David Strine (Leonard).
Sawyer, we find out about a third of the way through the film, worked in a hospice and cared for David’s father, who eventually passed away. Not before David had convinced himself that she was the love of his life though. Following a relentless stream of unsolicited conversations and messages, Sawyer files a restraining order against him and is forced to move away. Still reeling from the trauma of this experience, and finding herself triggered by her interactions with men – she books an appointment with a counselor at the Highland Creek Behaviourial Center to address her issues.
During the initial consultation with her counselor, the topic of suicide comes up. In a generally flippant way, Sawyer brushes it off but unwittingly signs a document that says she’s willingly checked herself into the facility for the next 24 hours. When she’s taken into a room, strip searched and then given medication to sedate her, it quickly becomes apparent that something is deeply amiss.
Obviously reluctant to be locked up where she doesn’t belong, Sawyer is disruptive and aggressive, screaming at fellow patients and assaulting the staff. This buys her seven more days (and no chance of chilling on Sunday). Luckily, she befriends Nate (Jay Pharoah) who becomes an ally and shows her around the joint. He confides in Sawyer that the center is running a scam to milk ‘patients’ of their insurance money AKA. checking them in when they shouldn’t be there and kicking them out when their payments stop. Ooooh.
Later Sawyer realises that David is in the building and now working the night shift, under the alias of George Shaw. Though do you think anybody believes a shrieking female about anything? When she reacts violently again, she is restrained and drugged – and spends most of her time in a similar state.
Nate comes through with a hidden phone which Sawyer uses to call her mum Angela (Carrie‘s Amy Irving). Mum thankfully rushes straight to the facility (from all that way away) and Sawyer tells her all about the stalking, and that David is in the area. Good old ma vows to get her out used all the legal power she can muster. Meanwhile, Nate is kidnapped, beaten and eventually drugged by you guessed it – David.
When his body is discovered the facility cover it up as a suicide but David rather flagrantly sends pictures of a battered Nate to Sawyer on his phone. She gets crazy again but – DESPITE THE FACT SHE HAS PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE OF FOUL PLAY – the fucking orderlies still ignore her and slap her arse in solitary. Shit son.
It all comes to a head when David fakes papers to show that Sawyer has left the building even though she’s still in the basement. When he goes to visit her she goads him, telling him she can’t be with a virgin and that he should sleep with someone else first. She suggests he grabs another woman from the center and he chooses Violet (Juno Temple), with whom Sawyer has previously had violent run-ins.
Using a shiv that Violet has about her person to stab David in the throat, Sawyer gets away but not for long – and the ending, well the ending is up to you.
This is a pretty solid psychological thriller that begs the question: is Sawyer bonkers or is she really being stalked? About halfway through the film we get the answer to this and I wish there had been more ambiguousness, really. It’s a very unsettling scenario though and not one I hope to ever find myself in.
Sawyer, as our final girl, isn’t particularly likeable and I always find that refreshing. She’s clearly been traumatised by her experiences and these have made her cagey and brittle – but I get the impression she’s a bit of a bitch anyway. She also shows little remorse when Violet is killed which bothered me. However, I was with her all the way, rooting for the very best outcome for her and a bloody horrible demise for pathetically creepy David the Virgin. Claire Foy is very good.
I hate that Mum gets killed. I also think there are a couple of holes in the plot like, I get that David is a stalker who murdered and assumed the identity of George Shaw but one doesn’t simply wander into a medical job and instantly gain access to the woman they’re stalking.
One thing about this film that is quite special: it’s filmed entirely on an iPhone 7. Oh and also that, eerily enough, is based on a true scandal.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test?
Surprisingly, this doesn’t appear on the list – however I think it does pass the test. If nothing else there’s a conversation between Sawyer and another woman near the end that revolves around work and not men. So there is that.