by Philip Price
“Unfriended” is one of those fun thrillers. One of those quick, harmless scary movies that fully intend to make you jump, but are just as funny as any mainstream comedy you've seen as of late. Of course, the comedy is meant to throw you off your game, to make you comfortable before it all comes crashing down and the original intent of the film is fulfilled. While ”Unfriended” clearly knows what it is and exactly who it is meant to play for, it is much smarter than its facade suggests and it only comes off this way because it clearly knows its target audience well enough to pull the gimmick of the film off almost flawlessly. That gimmick being the fact the entire film takes place within a single computer screen. It's an interesting concept and actually allows for a large amount of character building to be conveyed without a word being spoken (the ads on the side of our protagonists Facebook page hint at what she's interested in as do the multiple tabs opened in her Chrome browser), but more than this it takes advantage of every piece of social media technology at a teenagers disposal and turns it into a weapon against them. Sure, it is exaggerated at points and though we never feel anything is really at stake given we're expected to believe a dead girl has come back to haunt her friends from beyond the keyboard, the main idea holds steady while the rather precise story is executed at a pace that never allows the audience to become bored. In fact, it's just the opposite as the further down the rabbit hole we go the more fascinating it is to see just how much we divulge of ourselves online and how easily that can come back and be used against us. That is what the throughline theme is here, if there is even one to be found: that, eventually, the lives we lead on the clouds of the internet may someday meet up with our actual reality and the result for most might be pretty messy. Of course, ”Unfriended” isn't really into teaching lessons or serving as a cautionary tale to a generation absorbed by their tech, but more it just wants to have a little fun with current trends and in this regard, it succeeds to the point of obtaining guilty pleasure status.
We're introduced to the world of Blaire (Shelley Hennig) as she takes a peak at the suicide video of former classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). A link in the caption of the video takes her to YouTube where the video that apparently caused Laura's suicide still remains. We are initially taken by shock into this world of Blaire's as we witness Laura taking her life, but are soon reprieved of such depressive material when we glimpse what we can only guess is flirtation with first love between Blaire and the chiseled, all-American Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) who sits on the other end of her Skype call. While the two discuss Blaire's readiness to lose her virginity and go all the way with Mitch on their prom night the two are unexpectedly interrupted by a trio of close friends that seemingly harbor nothing but good will towards the picture perfect couple. Ken (Jacob Wysocki) is the uncool cool guy of the group as he is overweight and better acquainted with technology than the others as well as serving as the prime source of comic relief, but manages to maintain a natural air of charisma the others cannot argue. Jess (Renee Olstead) is the more experienced female of the group, heavily teased by her friends, but likely just searching for that one genuine guy who actually gives a shit about her. Then there is Adam (Will Peltz) who is the actual cool guy. He's the rich, good-looking dudes-dude that you would probably hate from afar until getting to know him better in which you'd then hate yourself for actually liking the guy. Each bring a vital enough flavor to the proceedings, but it is when they notice a mysterious sixth member on their video chat line that things begin to get a little hokey. What at first appears to be a prank continually builds to a more legit and genuinely terrifying experiment in what will happen next as Laura Barns seems to truly be back.
“Unfriended” is junk food. It is pure trash, but it is entertaining trash and it knows it as well as anyone willing to buy into the concept. One could easily berate the film for being little more than a quick, capitalization on the found footage genre that is all but over at this point (though M. Night Shyamalan will be taking a stab at it next), but they'd be wrong because if anything the film is more a rift on that genre than anything else. ”Unfriended” will certainly look dated within a years’ time at the most, but it captures a very specific moment in time and will somehow come to be cherished more in twenty years because of that. The immediate reaction to that previous statement is will anyone even remember a movie called “Unfriended” in two years’ time, much less twenty. But while it may quickly pass in our revolving door system of entertainment that overloads our brains today, Unfriended” is different because it plays into a very specific niche — one that will pick up on it and never let it die. This isn't the classy, pedigreed kind of horror that will bring the genre back to good standing with purists as features like “The Babadook” and “It Follows” have, we've already determined ”Unfriended” is the slutty step-sister to those types of horror films, but it has such a distinctive set of equipment that it utilizes so well it would be a true mistake to call this a bad film. I can admit there is nothing new going on here is terms of scary movie story beats; each character is still taken out one by one and the musical choices are deliberately ironic, but it is almost undeniable that something clicks for this cast and screenwriter Nelson Greaves slight narrative that asks for much to be conveyed under strict limitations. That both Greaves, director Leo Gabriadze and their cast were able to pull this off as well as they do is not just worth applauding, but worth spreading the word about. “Unfriended” is a solid little horror flick wrapped in cheap clothing intended not to be taken on what you think you already know it is, but for how well it delivers on what you didn't think it could be.