Friends until the end
Unfriended is directed by Levan Gabriadze and stars Shelley Hennig, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, and Courtney Halverson.
It would only be a matter of time before some director or writer would look at Facebook, Skype, and every other part of social media and technology and say to themselves, "You know what? I think I can make a horror movie out of that." When something like social media is now such an integral part of our daily communications, eventually there will be someone who would utilize it for a horror gimmick. In other words, when something has or still is a popular thing in the world, you'd better bet on there being a movie about it. Just look at the likes of Trolls and The Emoji Movie for all the proof you need on that. The likes of Facebook and Twitter are valuable sources to go about catching up with old friends and keeping in touch with current ones. How else is your son or daughter going to let all their friends know about a graduation party? Amidst all the good that goes around social media, there's also a lot of bad, and a lot of that bad comes in the form of bullying, whether its a simple derogatory post towards another when two people can't get along, or the posting of an embarrassing picture or video by a friend who realizes too late the stupid mistake they made.
Bullying, cyber or in-person, is nothing to laugh at and brush off as short-term nonsense, and that's what makes it a solid foundation for a horror movie. In Unfriended, bullying is taken to a real extreme: being the cause of someone to committing suicide. That someone is high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). Laura suffers relentless bullying remarks when a video of her passing out and defecating herself at a party is posted on Youtube without her permission. The bullying leads to Laura shooting herself in public, and a video of her suicide appears on LiveLeak. One year after Laura's death, her former best friend Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) is on a Skype group chat with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm). The two are joined by their classmates Jess Felton (Renee Olstead), Adam Sewell (Will Peltz), and Ken Smith (Jacob Wysocki). The group notices that a user under the name billie227 is in their chat, despite not being invited in by anybody. Their various attempts at disconnecting billie227 fail, and everyone believes that they're being pranked by another classmate. But it soon turns out that billie227 is not a pranking classmate, but a haunting force that is using Laura Barns' Skype account.
To hate Unfriended is a relatively simple task, because the plot is heavily dependent on a group of teenagers having made idiotic decisions in the past, with those idiotic decisions now coming back to bite them in the ass. Then again, these are teenagers, and teenagers normally do stupid things. It's just that the movie puts us at such a loss about who exactly should we be rooting for. Blaire and company are responsible for being a part of a cruel act of bullying, and they're getting punished for it in an eye for an eye manner. Is Laura's cyber-ghost going too far, or is the cyber-ghost's actions completely justified? Something that doesn't help the cause is how there is no clear effort on the part of director Levan Gabriadze to flesh out the characters and make any of their deaths impactful in any emotional way. Blaire and her group of friends are padlocked into respective stereotypes such as The Jock, The Geek, and The Slut, with the most you could possibly say about anyone capable of being summarized in ten words or less. I am hesitant to place the non-existent character depth as a low point, but only so much can be done in a brisk 83 minutes and especially when the movie as a whole is dependent on its teenage victims being idiots.
- The use of Facebook, iMessage, and Skype is actually pretty creepy and effective. The sound effects such as when you receive a new message on Facebook pop up every now and then to make the terror more realistic (they are the actual sound effects). I also credit this high point to a complete lack of a soundtrack and the fact that the movie plays in real time, starting right around 9 P.M. and ending shortly after 10 P.M. Also frightening is the various times in which Blaire is unable to close out of a video or delete a mysterious message from the Laura-ghost, because who in their right mind has ever used Facebook, Google Docs, or something else similar and not ever experience frustration when it comes to not being able to find the button/icon you need to click? Unfriended finds quality fear out of one of our most common frustrations: technology not cooperating with us. The live video feed breaks up several times to make things more uneasy, especially when it's obvious that someone is about to die. The Universal Pictures opening theme has purposeful break up to set the tone right before the movie even begins.
- The entire film takes place on Blaire's computer screen, and that might not go over very well if you're watching the movie on a TV screen. I'd say Unfriended is a better fit to watch on an actual computer screen. The only times are eyes can move is if they dart around to notice all of the extra things on the margins of the screen, mainly on Blaire's Facebook page. The low point is the film's rigidity, like watching a theater show in which everything takes place in a confined space on stage left. It's these kind of movies that make me appreciate watching a camera move. Is a "computer" movie going to become a new gimmick down the road?
Say what you want about the technology, social media gimmick, but the fact of the matter is is that Unfriended is a surprisingly unnerving scare feature that tackles a tough idea in cyber-bullying, or bullying in general. Some might not like the whole "looking at nothing but a computer screen" for 83 minutes, but the movie gets enough mileage out of its intended goals to get the job done. Think of it as a digital slasher, because there's no hooded figure butchering everyone with a sharp blade. The figure to fear is vengeance coming to strike you down for crimes committed in a not-too-distant past. Remember, kids: idiocy isn't good for you.
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