Jay Pharoah



Continuing what must be the most unconvincing retirement in cinematic history, Steven Soderbergh is back once again with this energetic little exploitation movie. Allegedly shot on iPhones, it’s the story of a young woman’s struggle with an obsessive stalker. It’s fast-paced and occasionally gripping, even if the plot line sometimes causes the involuntary raising of eyebrows.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, a long way from Buckingham Palace), has relocated to Pennsylvania after suffering two years of being terrorised by David Strine (Joshua Leonard), a man who first became infatuated with her when she nursed his dying father. But when she starts spotting a familiar bearded face around the office in which she now works, she starts to wonder if her mind is playing tricks on her. She decides to visit a psychiatrist and, during an apparently informal one-to-one,  confesses that she  sometimes has thoughts of suicide. She is asked to sign some papers, which she does. Before she quite knows what’s happening, she realises she has just committed herself to be an inmate of the Highland Creek Behavioural Centre, a place that specialises in admitting ordinary people and exploiting them until their medical insurance runs out.  Foy handles the slow realisation of her predicament brilliantly and Soderbergh maintains a steadily mounting sense of paranoia throughout, even though the  concept does seem decidedly far-fetched. We are reminded several times that Highland Creek isn’t averse to bending the rules, but really? It’s that easy to find yourself locked up? Gosh, I hope not.

Things rapidly get worse for Sawyer, with the arrival of a hospital orderly who looks and acts exactly like her old adversary, Strines. But is he real… or just a product of Sawyer’s disturbed mind? As the tension racks up, she has only two people she can turn to for help – her estranged mother, Angela (Amy Irving), and fellow inmate, Nate (Jay Pharaoh), a man who may not be exactly what he seems. Everyone else she speaks to treats her like somebody who has, well, lost touch with reality.

To fully enjoy this, you’ll need to be able to suspend your disbelief – and it’s not always easy. It’s well acted and queasily credible at times, but scenes that show Foy running around an apparently deserted building do make me smile at inappropriate moments. What’s happened to all the staff? And how can a hospital orderly exercise such total control over the place in which he works?

Still, it’s nice to have Soderbergh back, even if this doesn’t quite measure up to his finest work. And if this is an example of what can be achieved using an iPhone, then surely we really have entered an age where becoming a film director is as easy as pulling out your mobile – although most of us won’t be able to call on old pal, Matt Damon, to put in a virtually uncredited cameo role as a security expert.

Still, no worries. Pass me that phone. Now… quiet on set, please! And, action!

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney