Director: Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble).
Cast: Shelley Hennig (Days of our Lives, Teen Wolf, Ouija), Moses Jacob Storm (The 4 to 9ers), Renee Olsted (The Secret Life of an American Teenager), Will Peltz (Men, Women & Children), Jacob Wysocki (Huge, Interns), Courtney Halverson (The Hammer), Heather Sossaman (Desecrated).
A horror film that understands the frightening perils of online bullying and cyber harassment; Unfriended is an innovative and creative take on ‘slasher’ genre.
It’s a difficult task to create an object of everyday use into something scary, but that’s exactly what Unfriended accomplishes with the humble computer. The entire film is from the point of view of Blaire Lily’s (Shelley Hennig) Macbook screen, technically making it a ‘found footage’ movie.
It’s a little disorientating at first for the viewer, as if you’re looking over someone’s shoulder. But soon enough the screen becomes eerily familiar, as Blaire makes her way through Skype, Facebook, Spotify and more. The typical pieces of software that a teenager would use, perhaps that’s why it becomes terrifying when she’s no longer in control of it.
The film opens with Blaire watching the suicide video of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). She’s then called via Skype by her boyfriend, and are then interrupted by their close group of friends. In their group video call, they’re all talking but notice someone who shouldn’t be there, a “billie227”.
I won’t spoil the film by going into the details, but this “billie227” begins to harass and torment everyone in the group.
It’s a fascinating insight into how harassment and bullying has evolved since the time of wired phones, Ghostface and kitchen knives. By shutting someone out of one platform, they can just as easily crop up in another. Blaire constantly switches between Skype, Facebook, Instant Messenger, Instagram and more, but cannot get away from ‘billie227’. The directors have a clear idea of how social media and communication has changed the way people interact with each other and how the culture of communication and relationships have evolved.
Much like Phone Booth, the film’s tension and thrill is elevated by the real-time nature of events. There’s no skip in time, no chance for any tension to be reset, and in so keeps the audience on edge. It could have done with shaving about 10 minutes from the total running time, but at 82 minutes, it’s already comparatively shorter than most other ‘horror’ films. Even if toward the end, Blaire starts requesting help from strangers on Chatroulette. I can’t establish whether that’s a great use of the internet or just hilarious.
The script is your average B-movie narrative, although unlike a lot of modern horror films, there appears to be an actual point as to why these teenagers are being harassed and trolled. More often than not, the scares come first at the sacrifice of motivation, and while the story of Unfriended isn’t exactly original, it’s nice to see it as a driving point of the film, opposed to “Ghost/man/alien wants to kill people because that’s what the writer wanted”. The cast are limited in what they can do, Shelley Hennig puts in a good performance in a very small section of the screen, and the supporting cast play their roles just fine too. They all felt believable, even if the viewer never really finds someone to root for.
In the age of social media, where everyone shares everything about themselves, it’s unsettling to see accounts with blank avatars, much like “billie227” has on Skype. The directors really have a grip on how to make seemingly normal activities creepy. Being tagged in awkward Facebook photos, songs starting to play without your consent, not being able to close tabs. Just as a cold breath down your neck might make your hair stand on end, these actions send chills down your spine. Imagine, right now, as you’re reading this, someone else suddenly took control, typing messages to you and not allowing you to escape. Unfriended nails the contemporary nature of teenagers consuming as much as possible online.
Older fans of horror films will likely turn their heads at the concept, but the generation of us that grew up alongside the boom of the internet, PCs and laptops will no doubt find something frightening about Unfriended.
Feature image credit: Universal Pictures