An online group chat turns sinister when a ghost from their past appears and begins punishing people for the death of a friend. Directed by Levan Gabriadze, script written by Nelson Greaves, based on original ideas by developer Timur Bekmambetov. “Unfriended” was developed by Jason Blum; the producer of “Insidious”, “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge.”
Like many people’s waking hours, “Unfriended” takes place almost entirely online. Specifically, on the laptop of teenager Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig), who is video chatting with her boyfriend until their friends barge into the seduction. On the anniversary of their friend Laura’s death by suicide, prom plans and upcoming concerts are the hot topics. Laura (Heather Sossaman) was the victim of a cyber bullying attack after a deeply humiliating video was posted online with the suggestion that she kill herself.
On school grounds, Laura shot herself in the face in a very authentic looking tragedy. This scene echoes the high-profile real life suicides of young people driven to hopelessness by their cruel peers. A mysterious Skype user claiming to be Laura joins the casual conversation between Blaire and her pals and exposes dark secrets that destroy relationships via a high stakes game of Never Have I Ever.
The rules are simple; you hang up on the video call, you die. You lie about your past misdeeds, you die.
Soon, the vindictive stranger on the screen is making threatening phone calls, controlling the electrical systems in the user’s houses, flooding the Internet with racy private photos and videos, turning friend against friend, forcing people to commit suicide and even choosing songs on Spotify. Oh, the horror!
Except “Unfriended” isn’t REALLY a horror movie per se. It isn’t frightening, but it is bleakly comical and original. I viewed it as a modern companion piece to “Heathers.” As we learn over the course of the film, which moves at a quick pace, Blaire and her friends are complete and total douche bags. Their precarious friendships are based on secrets and lies, and instead of having each other’s back, they’re busy stabbing them. There are no heroes or heroines to root for here. This lack of a moral center creates a common horror dilemma, we’re left waiting to see who dies next and how, but there’s no tension because the deaths are justified.
What sort of deaths, you ask? There’s a hand inserted into a whirring blender, the classic gun to the head, a curling iron jammed down a victim’s throat, a knife to the eye, a swallow of bleach and other fun demises. Despite the R-rating, the gore is minimal and shown in quick flashes, there’s no real nudity and the violence isn’t over the top.
Fun Fact: “Unfriended” was originally called “Cybernatural.” Universal renamed the picture and bumped back it’s release date once they acquired it for distribution. http://variety.com/2014/film/news/universal-to-release-m-night-shyamalans-the-visit-1201354765/
I liked “Unfriended” for both its cynicism in omitting a heroic or virtuous character, and the theme of powerlessness the teens experienced as the control over the technology that defined their daily lives was taken from them by someone hidden behind the mask that the Internet provides and allows people to behave in deplorable ways. To say that the film handles suspense differently than most is an understatement. One of the coolest moments involves a computer print out, and we know that folks are about to die because their video images distort and freeze up. You aren’t going to see any explosions or Ghostfaces leaping out of the closet with gleaming knives, but the realism of the piece is a strength. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. Once the deaths start, events speed forward like a bullet and the last few seconds, which do not take place on Blaire’s laptop screen, are fun.
I was shocked by how much I didn’t despise this one. I’m not particularly technologically literate. I know nothing about Skype, Spotify or a couple of other tools used to tell the story. But I do know a smartly crafted revenge fantasy when I see one.