Movie Review – Unfriended

EXPECTATIONS: Another shitty found footage film with a good premise but crappy execution.

REVIEW: I remember back in 1999, the Blair Witch Project came out, and it was causing hysteria within film audiences all around the world. Everyone was questioning the theory of whether the film was real or not. The film even revolutionized internet marketing and inspired many film and TV parodies. Sure there have been a few found-footage films before then like Man Bites Dog and Cannibal Holocaust but The Blair Witch Project reaffirmed the genre’s existence and brought it to the new age. Ever since then there have been middling efforts to copy off the film, with notable exceptions like Noroi: The Curse, but it is around 2007 when great examples like REC and Cloverfield hit the screens, and the former showed that it can expand beyond the horror genre. Then a little film called Paranormal Activity came out and it showed again, with very little money, you can make a film that can scare audiences. But what happened afterwards was not for the best, and the genre diluted itself with many bad entries like The Gallows, Devil’s Due, Apollo 18, the Paranormal Activity sequels etc. that were just plain lazy with stupid jump scares lack of atmosphere/mood and jarring methods that take you out of the movie (eg. a film score in a found-footage film?). As for Unfriended, it may not be a prime example, but it is creative, timely, darkly funny and quite disturbing.

The film revolves around six teenagers Blair, Mitch, Jess, Ken, Val and Adam who are Skyping over for a group chat as they plan to go to a concert. But during the chat, a mysterious user joins in, annoying the group. Assuming that it is a technical glitch, they ignore it until it supposedly reveals itself to be Laura Barns, a former classmate who killed herself exactly one year ago. As the group try to get rid of her, the user exposes all of their dirty secrets and lies. I admit, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film, especially when I watched it in the cinema. The film is surprisingly immersive despite the fact that it is set on a computer screen for 80 minutes.

Speaking about the setting, the director and writer really attacked the material with a lot of verisimilitude, using the exact sounds and layouts of the programs like Skype, YouTube and Mac programs, and it really adds to the storytelling. Even the video freezes and sound lags are used to great effect, adding to the atmosphere and immersion. Also adding to the storytelling is the acts of the characters on how they use technology. One example is how a character would start typing a message and then erase it and change it completely. That is a clever bit of storytelling that adds much-needed character development and is realistic within people’s use of technology. Another example is how these characters think they are invincible behind anonymity, thinking they can get away with their bad deeds, but when their secrets are revealed, we know more about the characters. The progression between their anonymity and clarity is scary since again, it stems from reality. The film even drives the point of internet addiction into the tale (i.e, not resisting opening e-mails, many tabs on the internet browser) and it sells the horror premise quite well as it alleviates supposed plot holes.

Another plus to this film is the actors. In films like this, all I ask is that the actors are genuine within the film’s context and in this regard, the film succeeds. All the actors give life to their stereotypical roles and although not all of them are exceptionally likable, they add to the realism of the tale, since the story involves horrific bullying that these people may or may not have done.

A story like this would be really dark and almost downright depressing to go through, but both director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves litter the film with nice dark humour like well-timed uses of songs or pop-up ads. One song in particular had me laughing mainly because of the timing it was used. The film does not fall into the trap of overusing blood and gore, with some kills that pack a punch and are cleverly foreshadowed. The scares that do work effectively come from the well-worn trope that is the power of suggestion. Like the film Jaws, the reasons for its effective scares is that you don’t see what the fearful characters see and it is through the power of suggestion (i.e our minds) that make the scares work.

As for glitches flaws, the film does have a reliance on jump scares, although not as much as previous horror films and the characters do sometimes resort on stupid decisions (i.e the Chatroulette scene). The characters are still horror stereotypes (i.e the “virgin”, the promiscuous one, the jock, the stoner, the saintly boyfriend) and, to be honest, I wished the film ended five seconds earlier. When you see the film, you’ll know.

Fortunately, the film is foreboding in its atmosphere and with the clever storytelling, the director’s realistic approach and the game actors, Unfriended is a surprisingly above-average entry in the found-footage genre.

Quickie Review

PROS

Clever storytelling

Actors give genuine performances

Realistic approach to the use of internet technology and its consequences

Great use of dark humour peppered throughout the film (It was an accident! It was an accident!)

The atmosphere of the film is very palpable in its less-is-more approach

CONS

Stereotypical horror characters

Overuse of jump scares

Dumb decisions from characters

SCORE: 7/10 (Unfriended gives much-needed life to the found-footage genre with clever storytelling, chilling atmosphere and timely themes.)

Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki
Director: Levan Gabriadze 
Screenwriter: Nelson Greaves

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