Don’t Be Afraid to Friend ‘Unfriended’

If you asked me three months ago if I’d see “Unfriended” upon the release of the first trailer, I would have responded with a resounding “Hell no!” Cyber horror is an inventive concept, but also needs proper treatment in terms of both execution and genre subversion. However, with a trailer that makes the movie look more like an unintentional comedy than a serious horror film, you’ve lost me at that point.

The main reason this movie exists is because of the gimmick where all the action takes place on a girl’s laptop screen, specifically during a prolonged Skype group conversation. As boring as that sounds, the execution is unexpectedly strong, which is one of several things that made me surprisingly enjoy this film.

On the one-year anniversary of her friend Laura Barns committing suicide from cyberbullying caused by an embarrassing video of her getting very drunk at a party, Blair Lily plugs in to her laptop for the night and joins a group Skype conversation with several of her friends. A mysterious user shows up during the chat who can’t be removed, and claims to be the ghost of Laura. This ensues a relentlessly unsettling game of the friends giving into her demands with the threat of their own lives at risk, and more secrets than ones shown in the confessional room from “The Real World” get exposed.

The screencast structure of this movie is handled perfectly by director Levan Gabriadze as he, aside from the supernatural aspect, lends a smart sense of realism to the action that takes place. He truly captures how today’s millennial teens interact online from the app multitasking to hesitant messaging. In addition, the prolonged Skype conversation is pragmatic for how nobody’s webcam maintains perfect quality the whole time, and the breaks in their signal quality prove to be effective in their suspense.

The suspense carried by this concept thrives off of multiple methods, most notably sudden social media notifications and nondiegetic low level rumbling that underlies the tension. However the tensest moments are ones that are silent when the characters wait for a reply from Laura in the life-or-death games that are played. The anticipation of what comes next is legitimately scary, and the payoff is solid for there being no faux jump scare or CGI bullshit to go with it.

If there’s one thing scarier than the movie itself, it’s the social commentary it expresses on the present day state of the internet. People think that they can hold their deepest secrets to only certain people, even through sites like Facebook and Skype, but it takes only one person to spill the beans and forever change one or several people’s lives. In “Unfriended,” it’s a supernatural entity that pulls this off, and while that aspect is entirely fictional, the real world itself still allows for these types of things to happen.

On the other hand, the literal teen slasher element of the movie is one of the weaker aspects. The kills aren’t very original, and while the tension is built up sufficiently well for them, the overall payoff isn’t as effective as I hoped it would.

Finally, the ending of this movie is a slight cop out to the events that precede it. After maintaining a long-extended period of suspense that isn’t built on cliche jump scares, the filmmakers had the nerve to retract on that approach.

Before its release, I thought “Unfriended” didn’t even have a right to end up being good, but it shockingly deserves admirable merit for both its novel presentation and all-too-true social commentary . Like last month’s “It Follows,” the movie won’t likely generate similar responses amongst most horror audiences, but I believe it will have a following of some kind with certain niche crowds.

 

RECOMMENDED:“Unfriended” is a shocker not just for its smart horror subversions, but also for the fact that it actually ended up being good.