DIR/ Levan Gabriadze • WRI: Nelson Greaves • PRO: Timur Bekmambetov, Nelson Greaves • DOP: Adam Sidman • ED: Parker Laramie, Andrew Wesman • DES: Heidi Koleto • CAST: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson
Unfriended is an internet-themed horror film told entirely through the computer screen of a teenage girl. Though the film’s vague title shows as much imagination as those of other horror films like The Happening and It, we can at least be grateful that the film creators didn’t go with the “say-what-you-see” school of film titles that gave us Snakes on a Plane and Sharknado, because this film could have so easily just been called Internet-Ghost.
The film very quickly establishes that a girl called Laura Barns committed suicide one year ago and that this followed very soon after a humiliating video of her passed out in a less than dignified state was posted on the video along with throngs of comments harassing her and telling her to kill herself.
We learn all this as the protagonist, Blair, is reading over a couple of pages on the subject, even though she was Laura’s friend and, of course, knows all about it. She moves past this when her boyfriend starts a Skype call and they’re soon joined by a group of their closest friends, all of whom kind of hate each other and none of whom seem like interesting people. The mundane conversation veers into vague paranoia when they notice that someone they don’t know is in the middle of their Skype call. Making matters mercifully spookier is the fact that someone is talking to them through the deceased Laura’s Facebook page and even going so far as to take control of their computers and make them appear to type bitchy messages to each other. Mainly though, the mysterious “billie” using all of Laura’s accounts to torture and humiliate them, really just wants to know who posted the video and take all appropriate revenge.
A fairly large portion of the film is spent with the friends, (frenemies, really, I suppose), trying to figure out who has hacked their computers, while discussing it on all of the programmes that have been invaded. Things turns nasty when billie starts turning the group against each other, inciting a hell of a lot of scandalous revelations and more than a couple of violent deaths.
The plot is pretty generic, with no surprises in the multitude of ‘twists’ for anyone whose horror film experience goes past double digits. Tension and jump-moments are plentiful, but this is entirely down to the ‘heavy rumbling build up followed by a sudden loud noise’ dynamic. You’ll jump, but you’ll know that you’re about to jump at least five seconds beforehand. The film leans on far too much on these sound effects for something whose events and soundtrack are supposed to be contained entirely on a laptop screen. This method of portraying the film is interesting, though not interesting enough to make up for the film’s lack of imagination elsewhere and this technique was already used, to better effect, in the Canadian short film Noah in 2013.
The characters are not only fairly bland, but they’re also pretty much the exact stock characters lampooned by 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods. We have the innocent lead female, who’s nicer than all of her friends, the (relatively) good, sensitive guy, the pot-smoking wiseass, the unlikeable creep that everyone is friends with for some reason and two female characters competing for the role of generic-hostile loud person.
The main saving-grace of this film is its fairly accurate portrayal of online culture, with people so ready to anonymously condemn and ridicule each other, often leaping straight to “KILL URSELF” as an accepted form of criticism. This film is less like a true horror film and more like an 83-minute anti-cyberbullying commercial designed to hold onto young people’s attention by offering the promise of violence that would be graphic if the Skype camera didn’t lag and freeze up at all of the best moments.
Skype, Facebook and Chatroulette all make appearances in the film, but this glossy, modern Inter-web sheen feels tacked on to what is essentially a lowest-common-denominator horror flick.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Unfriended is released 1st May 2015