Unfriended (2014) Content Warning: Supernatural Violence, Suicide, Mild Sexual References, Bad Language
Directed by Levan Gabriadze
Starring Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig
A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.
IMDb Rating: 5.7
Unfriended; Brought to You by MacOS
Unfriended is a little slice of modern supernatural techno-horror. The entire movie is told through Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) MacOS desktop. You get a found-footage feeling, though with a twist to differentiate it from the likes of Paranormal Activity and [REC].
We join Blaire watching a suicide on LiveLeak. She then navigates through a few different things before her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm) pops up on Skype. Simple enough. What ensues is the standard tedium of modern, technologically-supported teenage romance. Mitch is your typical, horny teenage boy. He encourages Blaire to show some skin. In response, Blaire teases him, like many a teenage girl straddling the line between confidence and insecurity.
All of this early interaction seems a little dull and unnecessary. Yet I have to give the filmmakers some credit here; it does serve a purpose! One of the things this film does well is establishing the characters. Then it plays on our natural expectations of those characters. Yes, perhaps the various truths that are revealed about Blaire, Mitch and the supporting characters aren’t always handled with aplomb, but there are a few genuine surprises.
An Inspector Calls
Okay, maybe not an inspector. Soon enough Blaire and Mitch’s friends invite them to a group Skype conversation. Neither are particularly interested but curiously the conversation launches anyway (spooky!) and they’re greeted by the sights and sounds of their peers. What follows is a lot of text based chats and window-clicking. This can be a bit disorientating and distracting. If you’ve ever watched someone farting about on a computer, switching windows with the frequency of a caffeine-addled adolescent then you might find all of this slightly irritating.
The big concern is the person represented by an avatar rather than a feed. Who are they?! Well, we can already work this out. Enough information has already been given making the creepy occurrences that follow seem rather laborious. I get that *they* don’t know what’s going on, but listening to Ken (Jacob Wysocki) loudly blithering on is draining. I could also happily not hear Val (Courtney Halverson) and Jess (Renee Olstead) have a typical, bitchy teenage girl row.
You can’t really fault the filmmakers for trying to up the realism here, but there is a growing sense of “Get to the bloody point!” throughout a lot of this early interaction.
Sex, Lies and Videofeeds
As the film progresses, the reality of the situation kicks in. The Skype-chat snooper reveals itself to be a malevolent force, and starts to reveal various secrets. I couldn’t help but be reminded of J.B. Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at various points. The way in which each character had a part to play in the demise of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) echoes the Birling’s family and Eva Smith.
There’s not too much that can be said about the plot of Unfriended from this point on without bringing up massive spoilers. Suffice to say, the malware-manifestation shows itself to be all-knowing and all-powerful, and these poor buggers find themselves playing some rather demented games. As is often the case, it turns out that Laura was just one of many people this clique have screwed over, and like all good Plastics, they’ve also screwed each other (in various ways).
Mostly, what we can take from Unfriended is a supernatural twist on a story that for many is all too real. People are routinely shamed online by their peers. Friends act like enemies in order to be the Top Dog, Queen Bee or whatever the hell else at school. And sadly, people do get hurt by this. I dare say, for many, there’s a cautionary tale of our modern, connected world lurking beneath the surface.
I can’t really say that I like Unfriended, but I don’t hate it. It’s a high-concept film that both benefits and struggles from its attempted realism. At times, the furious typing, clicking and switching of Blaire made me want to scream. The outcome is too predictable to be truly scary and it doesn’t deviate enough from the blueprint to be truly original. That said, watching the slow-realisation of these arseholes being brought to answer for their misdeeds did give me a certain satisfaction. The makers did really well at managing viewer-sympathies, and although much dialogue is extraneous, there is an intelligence behind it as important characterisation is subtly revealed. Unfriended is really well acted, and I understand much of it was ad-libbed. As far as low-budget horror goes, this is one of the better recent ones I’ve seen but it’s not a must-see.