Despite earning points for creative form and dedication to theme, the new horror film “Unfriended,” ends up feeling like overkill. By the end of the movie, one feels less than sympathetic towards the group of stereotypically shallow tweens who meet the cyber-end they arguably deserve.
The film, which was originally presented by director Levan Gabriadze as “Cybernatural” at the 2014 Fantasia Film Festival, puts a cybernetic twist on the classic “dead teenager haunting movie.” The film follows a group of unapologetically dimwitted teens as they make a series of bone-headed decisions that end up killing them all in the end. However, what makes “Unfriended” different from other movies in its genre is that the audience is limited to viewing the events as they unfold through Blaire Lily’s (Shelley Hennig) computer screen. She switches between familiar browser tabs — Facebook, YouTube, Google and even Chat Roulette — as the movie’s gruesome, yet predictable plot unfolds.
The film begins with Blair playing a leaked video of her classmate Laura’s (Heather Sossaman) suicide — an opening that is frightening, but also in terribly bad taste, as it directly shows a young teenage girl shooting herself in the face. Eventually, after a few minutes of Blair playing around on the Internet, she logs onto a Skype video chat room with all her friends and a mysterious profile with no image available. The teens soon become spooked when they realize they cannot hang up on their mysterious guest, who they believe to be a hacker using Laura’s profile to mess with them. The teens get more and more ghost messages from the mysterious “hacker,” until it becomes obvious that the Skype profile is truly the ghost of Laura out to get revenge on her former bullies.
The film utilizes its format well — amplifying even the most mundanely frightening moments with eerily cheerful alternative songs playing from Blair’s haunted Spotify playlist. Rouge browser windows that won’t close, ineffective force-quit, frozen Skype screens and possessed Facebook profiles also captivate with what feels like a whole new genre of fear, making the audience feel as if they are actually watching Blair and her friends be physically and emotionally tormented on the other side of their own, familiar computer screens.
There is something terrifyingly disorienting about watching a malevolent ghost attempt to destroy the lives of six teens via their social media accounts. One never really knows what is happening, which is frustrating, yet terribly exciting. The film’s use of frozen screens and eerily timed computer error sounds also add to its clever gimmick, and provide some much needed creativity to the genre of modern horror.
While the film deserves to be commended for its fear factor, and not to mention the innovation and effectiveness of its novel theme, the whole thing was made to feel off-putting and wrongly disturbing by its cast of blase bullies. At one point in the film, the friends are forced to play a chilling game of ‘Never Have I Ever,’ during which it is revealed that they are all unarguably terrible people who have treated each other horribly, despite claiming to be friends. At this point, the teens seem to be more concerned with spilling the secrets their friends told to them in confidence and calling each other “trash” than they are with their own lives. They don’t even pause in their dramatic tirade to call the police, for they are obviously too busy shouting fake apologies and comically bad insults at each other through their glitching Skype screens. The entire ‘Never Have I Ever’ sequence not only removes any sort of sympathy one might have had for the characters in the first place, but also makes the film feel cheesy and a little silly. The fact that this scene takes place right in the middle of the film, when the climax should have been at its peak, is also extremely disappointing.
Once the audience discovers the true identities of these villainous teens as shallow, self-obsessed bullies, the film loses a bit of luster, and even becomes laughable as the remaining members of this evil teenage clique are murdered by the angry spirit they created.
“Unfriended” is an intriguing twist on the horror genre which is in desperate need of modern restyling, but the poorly established and irritating characters are this particular film’s downfall.
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