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Unfriended. 2015. Directed by Levan Gabriadze. Screenplay by Nelson Greaves.
Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman, and Matthew Bohrer.
Rated R. 83 minutes.
I don’t need to really lay out the plot here much: a girl named Laura Barns commits suicide, then one year later someone claiming to be her starts message a bunch of her friends who frequently chat online together. This leads way to a gruesome series of vengeful outings, all the dirty little secrets of the group coming into the light, out of the shadows.
One thing that does interest me about the whole movie and its gimmick is that there’s actually a few scenes where we get little to no dialogue. Now, that doesn’t automatically makes things interesting, or good, but I think it works because there are these down moments where we take the time to really hone in on what’s being typed, the looks on peoples faces; certain moments, this works in helping to ratchet up a bit of suspense. There are times this absence of much talking/dialogue works to take us off balance, which works better than the usual jump scare, in my opinion.
Plus, I think the whole gimmick of Unfriended, regardless of how good a movie it is or is not, works well enough to make a case for horror movies – or other films in general – trying to keep up with technology, as well as popular culture overall. Every generation has horror movies that speak to the time in which they’re made.
There are some issues the movie raises concerning internet culture. For instance, cyber bullying or stalking is part of the whole plot, in a sense. While this is obviously extreme, there’s a part of us asking: why don’t they just log out and walk away? The entire problem is that these kids are obsessed. Even before the games began with billie227, they were all meeting on Skype – no true interaction, they were hanging out and just talking. So it’s easy to see that this group of friends is addicted to being online. Says something about how internet culture has taken over the lives of so many, both young and old, to the point that even seeing friends killed online, right in front of their eyes, might not even be enough to deter some from walking away. Even worse, it’s almost as if the internet has taken away reality: they can’t seem to believe what is going on is real. Shows the distraction and distancing from really that some experience after being swallowed whole by the internet and social media/online interaction.
Another point this movie pushes is how people are remembered so well after death even when they were despised and hated while alive. Laura Barns was, by all accounts, a fairly stuck up sounding girl who made fun of others, et cetera. Yet once she is dead, people are putting up a Facebook account – it gets near 6,000 likes and one of the kids mentions how she has more friends now than she’d ever had before – and it seems all of a sudden Laura is no longer such a bad person. It shows how the internet culture makes people mourn in a way that focuses more on them, the living left to grieve, than it does the actual dead person; it’s more about validating the feelings of others, the people posting to dead people on their FB pages “We love you and we’re thinking of you everyday”. I’ve always thought about this as it is, so I like that Unfriended, in its own way, tackled that issue. It’s certainly one that’s prevalent the further we head into this digital, social media society.
SPOILER ALERT – YAR, THERE BE SP’ILERS AHEAD!
I loved the part where Ken (Jacob Wysocki) gets ambushed. The hand in the blender part I did not expect, although I did wonder early on when Ken showed the blender onscreen why it would be introduced; should have known. Still, it was a decent, bloody bit of work. Effective stuff, especially watching his friends have to endure the sight of his mangled hand, cutting in and out on their webcams.
The video of Laura Barns which prompted her saying “Kill urself” – it’s absolutely vicious. I thought it would be a bit of a rough little video, but I wasn’t prepared. It is heinous. Certainly something I can see happen to a young person – who hasn’t witnessed a drunk person either piss or shit themselves? – and then of course if it were passed around I can absolutely see it destroying that person’s life. For all its flaws and how often it mainly seems to be another screamy teen slasher flick, Unfriended has some decent, dare I say even poignant things to say about how internet culture is moulding people into terrible human beings, as well as sheep being herded to the slaughter; here, the slaughter is very, very real, unfortunately.
I also liked how bille227 began to whittle away the group by playing “Never Have I Ever”. Amazing way to incorporate the dissent of the group, as is the norm for found footage. However, I liked the way they did this because it wasn’t the typical banter of found footage horror where one person is yelling “Turn off the camera” and “Why won’t you stop asking me questions? What’s wrong with you?” Sure, it may play out in similar ways because they all start turning on one another, but it’s the way in which it happens I enjoyed. All the friends are exposed as typical teenagers, each flawed and snotty when they’re called on their individual bullshit.
“How you Lie, Lie, Lie” by Connie Conway is incorporated wonderfully into a scene where everyone has absolutely broken down, turning against one another worse and worse with every passing second. I thought that was pretty awesome. Love when a fun tune is used in a horror film. It’s got that light, beautiful sound while things are descending into complete chaos.
It might prompt people to say then that it’s just teenage junk, but it is not. The story is about teenagers, though, it is a pretty decent little horror for the new age of social media and Skype users moving forward into the 21st century.
Ultimately, I like a lot of what Unfriended wanted to accomplish. Not everything works. A lot of this comes in the typical form of a lot of teen slasher-style movies, as well as so many titles in the sub-genre of found footage. All the same, there’s enough in this movie for me to say it’s a 3.5 out of 5 star film.
Mostly I am impressed with how certain films like Open Windows and Unfriended are working towards using new technologies in telling stories. With all these new ways of communicating and interacting with one another, there are not only interesting innovations, but there are so many ways in which people can hide – anonymity on the internet is scary. Not just that, people find new ways to hide their ‘other lives’ from their friends and loved ones. Unfriended, particularly, explores this angle, as the main group of friends is attacked, all together, then one by one, and the secrets of their lives unravel right before their eyes.
I think it’s worth seeing this movie because there are fun bits. The end was a good bit of tension that paid off in full; really hit hard and spoke volumes. This is a suspenseful film at times and there are even a few good horror deaths that surprised me. Far from perfect, Unfriended is a fun new horror that has a raw edge at moments, and certainly it goes for the jugular – attacking both the trials of youth in this new day and age, as well as the addiction to the internet so many seem to be facing. We get to take a look at issues from cyber bullying, to the trust between friends, to the new social media obsession with celebrating/remembering the dead (simply for their own selfish attention-seeking needs). Trust me – it might have elements similar to other so-called teen slashers, but it’s not near being useless. See it and be the judge. I had a decent time watching this one.
And remember – just because a movie uses something from pop culture, or things such as the latest technology, does not automatically make them dumb. Sure, say that after you’ve seen it; that’s your right as a human and a filmgoer. But don’t trash this simply because you don’t like Facebook or you don’t like Skype, et cetera, et cetera. Half of the people crying that Unfriended is all gimmick, no substance whatsoever, are probably the same people logging onto FB to comment on IMDB or somewhere else, railing against the filmmakers trying desperately to write something funny to get a bunch of likes.
Irony? Un-huh, you’ve got it!
Father Gore is first and foremost a passionate lover of film— especially horror. He's also a Master's student at Memorial University of Newfoundland with a concentration in postmodern critical theory, currently writing a thesis which will be his debut novel of literary fiction, titled Silence. He also used to write for Film Inquiry frequently during 2016-17 and is currently contributing to Scriptophobic in a column called Serial Killer Celluloid focusing on film adaptations about real life murderers. As of September 2018, Father Gore is an official member of the Online Film Critics Society. Get in contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to chat movies or collaborate!