‘Unfriended’ (2014) Directed by: Levan Gabriadze
If you’re like me, you saw the advertisements for a horror film that takes place entirely on a laptop screen, and decided that it was a rental at most. Then Unfriended was released and actually got some pretty positive reviews, and put up respectable box office numbers ($31,537,320 domestically), especially considering the estimated $1,000,000 budget. The basic plot is that while a group of friends are video chatting, they begin getting messages from a female classmate that committed suicide exactly one year prior because of cyber bullying. The positive reviews and new take on the ‘found footage’ genre of horror had me slightly intrigued, and now that it’s available on video, I decided it was finally time to take a look.
One thing that has to be said up front is that if you don’t use Skype, Facebook, iMessage, or keep up with social media, this movie might not be for you. It literally takes place entirely on a laptop screen through video chats, instant messaging, YouTube videos, websites, and even a few Google searches. One thing that made the whole premise a bit more palatable to me, is that all of the services and apps in the movie were the real services that people actually use. There were no knockoff services used here as if this was an episode of Law and Order: SVU, and there were no terrible fake interfaces and apps that couldn’t actually exist either. The fact that the movie unfolds without any of the characters in the same room actually plays to its strengths, as something as simple as a glitch during the video chat can lead to some tension. You also get to learn more about the main character Blaire as she types out messages to others and edits those messages multiple times before hitting send. It gives a nice little bit of insight into her thought process, and how she approaches certain relationships.
More important than the technical elements, are the characters and having a reason to care about their plight. None of the characters here are incredibly likable, and as the movie goes on, the mysterious presence in their Skype session makes them address their darkest secrets. Even though I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, I was still somewhat invested in what was happening to them. For those who heavily use social media, it should be easy to sympathize with characters not wanting their dirty laundry shared and commented on by everyone they know. The fact that there have been real life instances of cyber bullying leading to suicide lends this movie a bit more plausibility as well.
Does this movie have any scares? I will say that while there weren’t any jump out of your seat moments (for me, at least), there was a lot of tension and some pretty gory sequences. As I mentioned earlier, the use of technology in this movie pays off, as the characters are all alone in their environments despite the fact they’re video chatting and can see what’s going on with their friends. Being connected to the internet while actually isolated and helpless in the physical world is an interesting topic to tackle, and while this movie mostly uses it for scares, it at least provides a context for why the characters act in the way that they do.
Unfriended doesn’t tread any new ground in terms of its story, but its execution is one of the better uses of the ‘found footage’ format in recent years. One other positive aspect about the movie taking place on a laptop screen is that you won’t get motion sickness while watching it. Some of the characters do move around with their laptops, but it’s just a video window within the laptop’s display, so it never gets disorienting. If you spend a lot of time on social media services or using chat services, this movie should be worth your time as it takes the notification sounds and visual cues you’re using to seeing everyday and turns them into something to dread. This movie is fun, even if the plot becomes a bit predictable. Hopefully everyone making any type of ‘found footage’ movie going forward finds a way to use the format to its advantage, as the creative team behind this movie did.