What seems to have started as a PSA against cyber bullying has turned into quite an interesting horror movie. Director Levan Gabriadze may have created, or assisted in creating, one of the most realistic and vicariously effective found footage movies of all time.
The entirety of the film is done from the perspective of Blaire’s – played by Shelley Henning – computer as she starts with a Skype conversation with her friends. Before long, they all start receiving messages from the account of a recently deceased classmate Laura Barns.
At first, the messages seem little more than harassment, until one of the group signs off, only to sign back on, seemingly possessed, and kills herself. The rest of the group now is in a struggle for their lives as, one by one, they are forced to admit to secrets about heinous acts that they did against each other. If they refuse, then they are punished for their insolence.
There are generally two ways effectively portray the characters, or victims as the case often is, in a horror movie. The first is to make them out to be generally good, sympathetic but still human characters so that when things start to go wrong, you find yourselves rooting for them; hoping that they escape their predator.
The second is to make them out to be horrible monsters, so that when they die the audience feels vindication at their passing. Unfortunately, this movie either leans toward the latter or neither at all. While not all of the characters in the film are “bad” completely, they are all reprehensible. However, unlike other movies without truly sympathetic leads, they also aren’t particularly memorable. The acting is weak, and the characters are remarkably cliché, and the film suffers for it.
As for the found footage element, this film gets it in spades. It is absolutely perfect. The issue with most found footage is that it is obviously edited, spliced in with music, clips put in out of order for some kind of effect, some pieces removed for a more cohesive story, et cetera, thus making them more of a movie shot on an Apple iPhone than a true found footage film. This, however, from start to finish, could have easily been done in one take, and it would lend itself to that level of believability.
We see Blaire typing things on her computer, and then deleting them before sending them as she thinks of better things to say. The video quality on the Skype chat can fluctuate, and it does so in the film. Whether or not found footage is effective can still be up for conjecture, but Unfriended did a perfect job of utilizing it to its fullest.
The other strength of this movie was its ability to portray the average American teenager. Using different kinds of technology, the things they say and how they talk to each other – minus the profanity to try and keep this movie PG-13. However, since this is a movie, that can be somewhat grating to someone who isn’t in the age range of the characters.
At the end of the day, this movie isn’t particularly original; after all, it is basically I Know What You Did Last Summer entirely confined to a computer screen. Also, unfortunately, the movie loses points for not taking obvious advantage for not making more poignant statements about social media and our culture’s virtual dependence upon it.
However, something about this movie has with it a certain charm. The death scenes are especially brutal, through conversations we are able to understand a deep level of rapport with the characters even if they themselves aren’t particularly flushed out, and it never feels rushed despite a somewhat brief 80 minute runtime. One could not call this film objectively “good” by any stretch of the imagination. However, considering this film wasn’t a reboot or a sequel to another film (at least not one made in America), it gets major points for trying something new in a field that seems to reward rehashing the old.
While perhaps this film might have been better served as a slightly longer movie, done with some third person camera work to show some more back story with them to get a better understanding of the characters as people, this is an enjoyable movie that is slowly building more credibility to a struggling genre. Two stars out of four.